Debate over Airbows heating up

Posted on: July 26, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

AirbowImage from Crosman
Jim Shockey with a bison he killed with an Airbow.

What exactly is it? And when should anyone be allowed to hunt with it?

Those are the questions being asked in recent days of the Airbow.

Made by Crosman, under its Benjamin brand, the Airbow is a hybrid of sorts. It looks like a rifle, shoots using compressed air like an air rifle, but fires arrows, not bullets or pellets.

It’s a powerful tool either way. Crosman says the Airbow can fire up to eight arrows on a single charge, at 450 feet per second. There are videos of it being used to take down big game animals.

State Rep. Marc Gergely – saying it “will play a big part in the future of hunting” — has introduced legislation that would legalize its use in Pennsylvania during firearms deer seasons.

That would suggest it’s not a bow, if you can’t use it in archery season, right?

Gergely himself admitted when introducing his legislation that he wasn’t sure himself.

Maryland wildlife officials are apparently lequallyundecided. There, according to some recent discussions, the state’s Department of Natural Resources is leaning toward regulating it like other air rifles, rather than archery equipment.

That debate is ongoing, however.

Crosman, for its part, has put together an unofficial map of where – in its opinion – the Airbow is already legal, and for what species. You can see it here.

In the meantime, the Archery Trade Association, the trade group representing archery equipment manufacturers, and Crosman have been engaged in a bit of a back and forth over what the Airbow actually is.

The association’s board – at the request of members and state wildlife agencies — recently released a position statement making clear the group doesn’t consider it archery equipment.

“While the ATA certainly recognizes the Airbow to be an innovative piece of shooting equipment, the Airbow nevertheless lacks basic components of standard archery equipment (e.g., a string system and limbs). For this reason, the ATA does not consider Airbows to be archery equipment,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say that the Airbow, unlike archery equipment, is not “subject to federal excise tax, the basic funding mechanism for state wildlife agency activities, which means no portion of the proceeds from Airbow purchases contribute to the state wildlife conservation activities supported by Pittman Robertson funds – at least not to the ATA’s knowledge.

“As a consequence, Airbows do not appear to be treated as archery equipment by the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” the statement adds.

The association stopped short of saying which seasons – firearms or archery – should be opened to the tool, however.

“In general, the ATA leaves the hunting seasons and regulations governing the use of hunting equipment to each state’s wildlife agency and its hunters,” the statement said.

That all prompted a response from Crosman.

Referencing the “negative position statement” from the archery association, Crosman agreed that pneumatic weapons – i.e. air rifles – are exempt from Pittman-Robertson taxes. It does pay taxes on the arrows the Airbow fires, however, and is “proactively pursuing the removal of the tax exemption for certain large bore pneumatic weapons, including the Airbow.”

The company also said hunters are petitioning their wildlife agencies to make the device legal in their states.

“Consumers are drawn to the Airbow because its performance compares closely to, if not exceeds, most crossbows. Furthermore, both consumers and state officials that have experienced the capabilities of the Airbow firsthand recognize it as a safe alternative to crossbows,” Crosman’s letter reads.

The company then quoted celebrity hunter Jim Shockey as saying, essentially, that hunters using all kinds of equipment have learned to coexist, to the betterment of their shared hunting heritage.

“More hunters means more dollars for wildlife conservation,” Shockey said.

Expect the debate to go on, as states figure out how and where to slot Airbows into hunting seasons, and more manufacturers undoubtedly come out with their own versions.

This is certainly just the beginning.

Airbow 2

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.