New technology breaks down barriers for hunters with physical disabilities

LANSING — Hunting is a time-honored tradition here in the Upper Peninsula, a favorite pastime that many of us develop passions for at young ages.

Unfortunately, people born with serious physical disabilities might never have an opportunity to participate, and hunters who develop physical limitations later in life often have to give up the hobby they love. As someone who was born without a portion of one of my legs and only partial use of one of my arms, I understand the frustration physical limitations can cause.

Fortunately, new technology is developed each and every day to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities. In the hunting world, a new piece of air-powered equipment could open up opportunities for people with physical limitations. The pneumatic weapons, which shoot arrows with a simple pull of the trigger, are easier for people with physical limitations to handle and use. They’re perfectly legal to own in Michigan, but hunting with them is currently illegal.

As a legislator, one of my goals is to give people every opportunity to go out into the woods and enjoy the natural resources given to us. That’s why I have been working hard on legislation that would give hunters with disabilities – who otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to get out into the woods – an opportunity to use pneumatic weapons for hunting in Michigan.

Under my bill, the Department of Natural Resources could issue permits allowing a person with physical disabilities to use a pneumatic weapon that shoots arrows during any regular bow season, as long as the applicant includes certification from a physician. Additionally, the Natural Resources Commission would be allowed to determine if the pneumatic weapons can be used during firearms seasons.

I am extremely disappointed to hear two of my House colleagues from the Upper Peninsula speak out against my bill. Based on a press release they issued last week, they either haven’t read the bill or they’re intentionally trying to mislead the people of the Upper Peninsula.

I want to set the record straight. House Bill 5180 would not create a large influx of hunters using pneumatic weapons during bow season. Hunters who need the special exemption would be required to submit certification from a doctor documenting a disability preventing them from drawing, aiming or shooting a crossbow. The DNR would review each application and issue a permit when appropriate.

My colleagues claim people with disabilities already have enough opportunities to hunt. They clearly don’t understand how difficult it can be for some individuals with physical limitations to draw back crossbows and traditional archery equipment.

I hope they listened closely to Tom Jones, who testified about the legislation last week in front of the House Natural Resources Committee, where my bill was under consideration. Jones works with Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors, an organization that provides outdoor recreation opportunities to wounded veterans and other individuals with health challenges.

Jones said he works frequently with people who are unable to participate in traditional hunting opportunities. Some people with rotator cuff injuries cannot fire shotguns because they are too hard on their shoulders. Others cannot use hand cranks to cock crossbows because they cannot lift more than 5 pounds. He also hears from veterans who lament the loss of their ability to go out into the woods alone.

“The people who are opposing this – there’s a big part of the population that people don’t see,” Jones told the committee. “I serve this community, I see the folks that come out who need help cocking their crossbows, who need someone sitting with them or holding a shooting assist stick.”

My hope is that pneumatic bows will break down barriers and give at least some of these people back their freedom.

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Rep. Beau LaFave represents Delta, Dickinson and Menominee counties in the Michigan House. He is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.