Bowhunters: Are You Legal?

It’s been said that in order to fully understand and comply with hunting and fishing rules and regulations as they appear in annual directories of some states, it may be beneficial to first obtain legal counsel.

By J.R. Absher, The Archery Wire

Does that sound like a joke?

If you’re a bowhunter who travels to multiple regions and parts of the country on a regular basis, chances are you’re not laughing, because you’ve experienced, firsthand, the bizarre irregularities in bowhunting equipment restrictions and regulations from state to state.

Some firearms deer hunters think it’s inconvenient to endure caliber restrictions or differences in some states-or even having to opt for a (gasp!) sabot-shooting shotgun for whitetail in some locales? Oh, the horror!

Say for example you’re a bowhunter living in California, where there’s no minimum draw weight for bows, but under Department of Fish and Game regulations, bows must be able to cast an arrow a minimum of 130 yards (how do wardens check that?). Legal broadheads (both fixed-blade and mechanical) “when open will not pass through a hole 7/8 of an inch in diameter.”

You’ve decided to head up the coast to Washington State, to hunt coastal blacktail as a non-resident. When you check the Department of Fish and Wildlife regulation booklet, you discover that the minimum bow draw weight is 40 pounds and that broadhead-arrow combinations must be 20 inches in length or more, weigh at least 6 grains per pound of draw weight, with minimum a minimum arrow weight of 300 grains. Barbed and expandable broadheads are illegal.

And then you have an opportunity to hunt mule deer in Montana. Great, huh? When you arrive at your outfitter’s place in Broadus you have your first chance to peruse the hunting regulations booklet. You discover bows cannot exceed 80 percent letoff or be shorter than 28 inches in draw length. Lighted nocks and electronic sights are forbidden. Broadheads must have at least two cutting edges and be at 7/8 inches at widest point and weigh at least 70 grains.

Just when you thought your bowhunting season was finished, you have a chance to hunt in Pike County, Illinois, known for some of the best and biggest whitetail deer on the planet. You’re not taking any chances, so you access the Illinois Hunting Regulations online to determine what broadheads are legal, because you want to arrive prepared.

“Fixed-blade broadheads must be metal-, flint-, chert-, or obsidian-knapped, be barbless and have minimum 7/8-inch diameter when fully opened. Broadheads with expandable blades must be metal.”

Forget about those flint and obsidian expandable broadheads in Illinois, at least for now.

To be fair, not all states burden bowhunters with an array of equipment restrictions, some that would be difficult-if not impractical-to enforce in the field.

So, for the record, here are some of the archery equipment hunting regulations from some of the least-restrictive states.

Minimum draw weight: None.
Broadheads: Must be at least 1 inch in diameter.

Minimum draw weight: None.
Broadheads: All legal broadheads permitted.

New Mexico
Minimum draw weight: None.
Broadheads: All legal broadheads with steel cutting edges permitted.

Minimum draw weight: None.
Broadheads: Blades must be at least 7/8 inch wide and have two or more cutting edges.
Have a great bowhunting season. And don’t forget to do your homework before hunting in another state.

– J.R. Absher is editor of The Archery Wire, the source for “Archery and Bowhunting News You Can Use.” Contact us at