Hunting when one is a felon is a difficult topic – possessing a firearm is usually prohibited, however, the use of a traditional bow or crossbow may be allowed depending on the state, season, and permits. The first point to address is “what is a bow”? There are three types of bows that I’ll address – the traditional bow, the compound bow, and the crossbow – and then look at a few examples of state laws surrounding the use of weapons for hunting.

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What is a Bow?

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A firearm, as defined by the ATF, is any weapon which “will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive”. This is, of course, the main method in which a modern gun fires bullets or shots, however, this does not include a great range of weapons that we could consider to be hunting weapons.

As bows and crossbows do not use an explosive, they are not legally considered firearms and so they are not considered firearms. This means, according to the 1968 Gun Control Act, that bows – including compound bows and crossbows – can be used by felons without worrying about breaking further laws for firearm possession (a Class 6 felony).

That’s right, the use of a bow, compound bow, or crossbow by a felon is not a federal crime and they are not restricted from owning or using them for hunting.

This has been supported by a number of states. However, just because it is not a firearm and a felon will not be convicted for breaking the 1968 Gun Control Act, it is important for those considering this to check state laws and regulations before purchasing one specifically for hunting.

In Mississippi, for example, in 2004 it was stated that an individual can hunt with weapons such as traditional bows and arrows or crossbows as they did not break the Mississippi Code Annotated Section 97-37-5 – this covered weapons such as a muzzle-loading rifle or a muzzleloading shotgun, firearms often used for deer hunting, which felons are barred from using, but does not cover bows or crossbows.

In Wisconsin, it is legal to hunt with a bow as long as you have not had your hunting privileges revoked and the individual has an appropriate permit for archery season. It is also possible to hunt during the gun (deer) season with a crossbow, but it is strongly advised that you consult legal aid before actioning this advice.

In California, as long as a convicted felon is properly licensed, they may hunt with bows and crossbows when it is legal to do so. As the Penal Code only states that possessing a firearm or ammunition is a felony offense, all archery equipment is perfectly legal. Make sure that you check with a local legal authority such as a parole officer or lawyer prior to any purchase.

However, in Colorado, it is not legal for a felon to possess a crossbow, due to regulations concerning the crime of possession of a weapon by a previous offender – even though the 1968 Gun Control Act would not be broken by the use of a crossbow, in Colorado, it is a criminal offense to possess, use, or carry a weapon such as a crossbow.

This is very clear in that a felon should never be in possession of a weapon like a crossbow unless they wish to face jail time or increasingly heavy fines.

Broadly speaking, hunting is off the table completely. It should be noted that although a felon can obtain a hunting license in Colorado, this does not allow the felon to then obtain barred weapons; in essence, unless you plan to fight your quarry bare-handed, it may still not be possible to hunt even with the appropriate license without risking a possession of a weapon by a previous offender felony conviction.

Another state that takes the definition of a banned weapon beyond simply firearms is Idaho, stating that any weapon that propels a shot or projectile by a force such as that used by firearms or by mechanical means – this means that in Idaho, it would be illegal to hunt with a compound bow or a crossbow unless they have their gun ownership rights restored.

It may, however, be possible to hunt with a traditional bow. This is an important point to pay attention to as it is imperative for potential hunters to check their local laws and regulations so that they are not convicted again. It is also important to pay attention to hunting license eligibility; a hunting license can be refused or revoked due to hunting license violations or repeated offenses.

Before starting hunting with a bow or crossbow, it is essential that they are aware of the law in the state they are living in as well as obtaining a hunting license; this will help them hunt legally and safely with proper handling. As shown above, it is legal and even encouraged in some states for felons to turn to bow, compound bow, and crossbow hunting if they wish to.

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Obtaining the proper legal paperwork prior to purchasing is incredibly important, however, regardless of where you are; you should be able to prove why you have the weapon and what you intend to do with it. If you are in a state with expanded rules for what constitutes a firearm, be sure to gain legal advice prior to purchasing any weapon especially if they were listed above. It may not be possible to own or even be around weapons such as crossbows with a felony conviction, so do be careful.