The Oklahoma state legislature is considering a bill that would legalize using arrow-shooting airguns, also known as “airbows,” during the state’s archery seasons.
While other states (including Oklahoma) have legalized the use of these weapons during rifle seasons, the Sooner State would be the first in the nation to make them a legal means of take during bow seasons.
One bill (HB 2355), which passed the House on a 77-17 vote, would legalize airbows during any open hunting season. Another bill (SB 352), which failed in a Senate committee, would have expanded airbow use into muzzleloader and antlerless deer seasons. The introduced version of that bill would have allowed hunters to use airbows to target antlerless deer during archery season.
Proponents of the bill argue that airbows are safer than crossbows and equally as effective. Airbows use pressurized air to fire an arrow at speeds that can exceed compound and traditional bows and crossbows. They are fired using a trigger similar to a rifle and can be fitted with magnified optics.
Representative Eddy Dempsey, who sponsored HB 2355, implied during a committee hearing that since crossbows are already allowed in Oklahoma during the archery season, airbows pose no significant change to policy.
“An airbow is shooting the same bolt that my crossbow is shooting. And my crossbow is pretty bad. It’ll shoot it as far or further than some of these airbows,” he said.
Despite the apparent support from legislators, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission released a statement voicing opposition to allowing airbows during archery season.
“The archery deer season is 3½ months long because it supposed to be a challenge to use a
bow when hunting deer,” Commissioners wrote in a position paper. “The Pending Legislation will create an unfair advantage for the arrow rifle user over conventional bowhunters, and arrow rifle users already have 95 days of hunting opportunity.”
The Archery Trade Association has long objected to categorizing airbows as archery equipment. Airbows lack the strings and limbs that constitute a bow, and the organization does not allow arrow-firing airguns to be shown at its annual show.
“ATA stands in opposition to any expansion of arrow-shooting airguns into traditional archery-only seasons,” ATA Chief Conservation Officer Dan Forster said in a statement opposing HB 2355. Forster points out that airbows do not contribute to Pittman-Robertson wildlife conservation funding, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation says such a change to the federal tax code could take many years to achieve.
MeatEater’s Tony Peterson says that while he has personally never used an airbow and does not oppose them in general, he doesn’t believe they belong in the field during archery season.
“I don't think toting an airbow into the field is a great look for bowhunters,” he said. “It feels like an unnecessary bridge between archery season and firearm season. Maybe I'm way off because I've never used one, but my gut instinct is that airbows don't fit well in archery season.”
Even though HB 2355 passed the House by a wide margin, there is reason for traditional archery hunters to be optimistic. The bill’s title was removed on the House floor, which means the bill has to be passed a second time by the House Wildlife Committee. Dempsey also said in committee that the bill is a “work in progress” and refused to say whether he wanted to allow airbows to be used during archery season.
Oklahoma is one of the first states to make a serious push to categorize airbows as archery tackle, but it’s unclear who or what is behind this movement.
“The question I keep scratching my head over is, where is the constituency that is driving this?” Forster asked. He pointed out that there were less than 100 airbow licenses sold in Oklahoma last year, which pales in comparison to the 36,522 deer taken during the 2021-22 archery season. “You weigh that interest against bowhunters, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.
One might assume airbow manufacturers are hoping to expand their influence into archery seasons, but that might not be the case. While at least one sporting goods store in Oklahoma supported SB 352, the Airgun Sporting Association (ASA) sent a letter opposing the bill.
The ASA supports the use of airbows during rifle seasons, but it “also recognizes that these are ‘airguns’ that shoot an arrow–they are not ‘bows’ and should never be compared to a crossbow or any other archery equipment. Therefore, it is the long-standing position of the ASA that arrow shooting airguns should not be considered as an acceptable method of take during archery-only seasons.”
HB 2355 is currently before the Senate Tourism and Wildlife Committee. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.