CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- According to the number of crossbow permits being issued, one in every seven West Virginia bowhunters is too disabled to draw a conventional hunting bow.
Since January 2009, Division of Natural Resources officials have issued 18,000 crossbow permits in a state estimated to have 125,000 bowhunters. "That's very surprising to me," said Curtis Taylor, the DNR's wildlife chief. "Personally speaking, it's way more than I expected."
Taylor's surprise stems from the high percentage of hunters who have claimed physical disabilities in order to hunt with crossbows, which are slightly more powerful and accurate at slightly longer distances than conventional bows.
In Michigan, a state of 9.87 million people, roughly 56,000 hunt with crossbows - about one in every 179 people. In West Virginia, a state of 1.86 million, 18,000 hunt with crossbows - one in every 103. Michigan issues permits to both able-bodied and disabled hunters. West Virginia issues them only to disabled hunters.
Such statistics have caused Taylor to suspect that some able-bodied West Virginians are "qualifying" for crossbow permits by persuading doctors to declare them handicapped when they really aren't.
A state law passed in 2008 requires the DNR to issue crossbow permits to hunters who have been certified by doctors to have "permanent and substantial physical impairments" that render them "unable to use a conventional bow and arrow device."
According to information contained on the application form for a West Virginia crossbow permit, doctors are supposed to administer a battery of tests to determine whether the applicant's hand and shoulder function is too poor to draw a conventional bow.
The tests include a "pinch, grip and nine-hole peg test" to determine hand strength and function; and a "standard shoulder strength test" to determine shoulder function. To qualify for a crossbow permit, the doctor must certify that the applicant has "permanent and substantial loss of function" in one or both hands or shoulders.
"Any handicap that's less than 'permanent and substantial' is not supposed to qualify the applicant for a license," Taylor said.
Randy Benear, former state head of the National Wild Turkey Federation's "Wheelin' Sportsmen" organization for disabled hunters, said he was surprised to learn that so many crossbow permits had been issued.
"It sounds to me like a significant number," he said. "I could be wrong, but I think there are quite a few people getting them that don't really need them."
Benear, a quadriplegic who hunts with a conventional bow that can be locked at full draw and mounted to a mechanical aiming device, likened the state's crossbow-permit proliferation to the proliferation of handicap parking permits.