Airguns/Airbows

Summary

Airbow and airgun legality for hunting use varies by state. Where some limit airgun use based on minimum calibers, velocities and ammunition grain weights based on the game species, other states do not mention airguns at all, leaving ambiguity in the minds of prospective users. As advances in technology continue, legislators are generally encouraged to work alongside their state fish and wildlife agency to ensure that the laws and regulations related to new technologies are clearly stated; and, more specifically, to consider the inclusion of Airbows and airguns in their state’s existing firearms seasons.

Introduction

An airgun propels projectiles by means of compressed air or other gas, rather than using an explosive charge like a traditional firearm. Regulations surrounding the use of airguns vary significantly from state to state. Based on airgun technology the Airbow – a hybrid hunting product that uses compressed air to fire an arrow – has now been developed. Today’s airguns, and now the Airbow, demonstrate a striking advancement in this technology beyond the BB and pellet guns of yesteryear. Many of the products available on the market today fire larger caliber projectiles (or arrows, in the case of the Airbow) and now offer shooters an expanded kill range with a product that is capable of harvesting big game animals.

History

Airgun technology dates to the earliest days of the United States. Lewis and Clark famously utilized a .46 caliber air rifle in their expedition following the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.  Today, large bore airguns can harvest the most popular game species, but are presently legal in only eight states for whitetail deer and other large game. 

In January of 2016, Crosman introduced the Benjamin Pioneer Airbow, which fires 375 grain arrows at 450 feet per second and 160 foot pounds of energy.  Comparatively, most common modern crossbows fire bolts up to 425 feet per second and up to 110 foot pounds of energy.  Currently the Airbow is legal for big game hunting in only seven states.

Issue

Airbow and airgun legality for hunting use varies by state. Where some limit airgun use based on minimum calibers, velocities and ammunition grain weights based on the game species, other states do not mention airguns at all. This leaves ambiguity in the minds of prospective users and manufacturers, which is why manufacturers often ask prospective users to confirm local regulations in their respective state before trying to hunt with airguns/Airbows.  There is no recorded attempt, thus far, to legalize Airbows in archery-only seasons, and the Archery Trade Association has released a position that states that Airbows are not archery equipment.     

Points of Interest

  • Today’s modern air powered hunting rifles and Airbows are powered by air pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) generating the energy exceeding that which is generally regarded as the minimum required for taking large game inside 50 yards, out to a maximum of 100 yards.
  • Like most handgun bullets, traditional muzzleloader round balls, and arrows tipped with broad heads, airgun pellets/bullets transmit little of the “shock” value on impact that is associated with high velocity “high-powered” rifle projectiles. Thus, clean, quick killing requires either (1) precise shot placement on a vital organ or, (2) sufficient projectile energy to create a wound channel that is large enough - or long enough - to cause fatality through blood loss.  Large bore airguns and the Airbow satisfy both criteria.
  • Unlike traditional firearms, airguns and Airbows are considered to be “hearing safe” in that they produce less than 140 dB of sound when fired (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s threshold for an impulse noise).
  • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife allows hunters with disabilities to apply for special use permits to hunt with Airbows. Providing such accommodations puts more hunters in the field who may not be able to hunt otherwise.
  • Renowned sportsman, Jim Shockey, recently demonstrated the Airbow’s capability in a popular video.

Language

The following states have proposed airgun/Airbow legislation using the language below:

 

  • Delaware HB 157: “An airbow as described herein may be used for the pursuit, taking and attempted taking (hunting) of deer on privately owned lands and those lands within the State owned by the State of Delaware so designated for this purpose by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, at its discretion, under the following conditions: (1) An airbow shall be limited to an air gun that propels an arrow at least 18” in length with a minimum speed of 300 feet per second at release, uses an arrow with a sharpened broadhead with metal points and a minimum width of 7/8 inch, and has a working safety if the device is fired by a trigger; (2) An airbow is not an archery device; (3) To be used in place of a shotgun during the shotgun deer season(s).” 
  • Illinois HB 2410: “Amends the Wildlife Code. Provides that a person may take deer with a .45 caliber or larger air-powered gun. Defines "air-powered gun" as any implement, designed as a gun that will expel a BB or pellet by spring, gas, or air charged from an external high compression power source.” 
  • Pennsylvania HB 2081: “(a) Except as otherwise provided in this title, it is unlawful for any person to hunt or aid, abet, assist or conspire to hunt any game or wildlife through the use of: * * * [(5) Any device operated by air, chemical or gas cylinder by which a projectile of any size or kind can be discharged or propelled.]”This paragraph shall not apply to an airbow used during a firearm season…..As used in this section, "airbow" means a device that launches a single projectile arrow through the use of compressed air at a minimum of 400 feet per second.” 

Moving Forward

As advances in technology continue, legislators are generally encouraged to work alongside their state fish and wildlife agency to ensure that the laws and regulations related to new technologies are clearly stated; and, more specifically, to consider the inclusion of Airbows and airguns in their state’s existing firearms seasons. Legislators are further encouraged to support efforts to include large bore airguns (.357 caliber and greater) and Airbows in the American System of Conservation Funding by expanding the Pittman-Robertson Act to include excise taxes on these items.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact Brent Miller at bmiller@congressionalsportsmen.org.

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