In Missoula court, crossbow advocates withdraw lawsuit challenging archery season
(Missoula Current) After suing to force the state of Montana to allow the disabled to use crossbows during bowhunting season, the plaintiffs have withdrawn their case. But according to one, their fight isn’t over.
Last week, Missoula federal magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto granted the request of four plaintiffs to dismiss their case against the state of Montana, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the FWP commission. The plaintiffs include state Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, Tim Andrew Gardipee, Bruno Friia and David Helmers.
The case to eliminate the crossbow prohibition was dismissed without prejudice, which means the plaintiffs could file it again. Molnar said that another effort is being pursued.
“I’m done putting money into trying to force the state of Montana to follow Montana and U.S. law. While the next steps have already started – I’m not going to expose them at this time – they are taking place. You will see them, you will hear them,” Molnar said. “You’ll hear about it within six months. I suspect earlier than that. but this stuff takes time to put together and put forward.”
Over the past few Legislative sessions, Molnar, his fellow plaintiffs and a few other legislators have tried to argue that the prohibition on the use of crossbows during the bowhunting season – the five-to-six weeks in September and early October before general rifle season starts – violates their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The attempt in 2021 was the ninth effort to pass a bill allowing crossbows during archery season. Austin Knudsen, R-Billings, carried one of the earlier bills.
However, Montana has already defended its archery season against disability complaints filed with the Department of the Interior in 2003 and 2007. The Interior Department ruled the state in compliance.
Bowhunters, including members of the Montana Bowhunters Association and the Traditional Bowhunters of Montana, have repeatedly opposed the bills, saying disabled hunters can use crossbows during other seasons and the state’s permit-to-modify archery equipment allows the disabled to use bows during the bow season.
“You can legally hunt with a crossbow for 300 days in Montana, with or without a disability. What this boils down to is certain individuals wanting special treatment to kill bull elk during the rut with a crossbow,” said Paul Kemper, Traditional Bowhunters of Montana vice president.
After being unsuccessful at getting the Legislature to pass bills allowing the disabled to use crossbows during bowhunting season, Molnar and his fellow plaintiffs filed their lawsuit and temporary restraining order against Montana and FWP in August 2021.
The restraining order would have lifted the crossbow prohibition for the 2021 season.
But the day before the archery season opened, Missoula federal district Judge Dana Christensen issued his order denying a request, saying the Americans with Disabilities Act requires only “reasonable accommodation,” and FWP already provides permits for handicapped hunters to modify compound bows for their special needs.
A few weeks later, the four men appealed to the FWP commission, asking for special permission to allow the four men to use crossbows during the bow season. But the commission voted unanimously to deny their request.
The lawsuit itself limped along until Aug 2022, when the plaintiffs filed for a stay. Then last week, the parties agreed to dismiss.
But not before they tried one more time in mid-October with the FWP commission. Their attorney, Bruce Fredrickson of the Kalispell-based Rocky Mountain Law Partners, petitioned the commission to adopt a rule to allow disabled hunters who can’t use modified bows to use a crossbow during the archery-only season. But again, bowhunters testified in opposition, and the commission voted to reject the petition.
Molnar said they violated his rights to seek redress of grievances from the government.
“I have never seen a more arrogant, incompetent set of appointees by any governor than I have seen by these seven appointed by Gov. Gianforte. They have no respect for the U.S. constitution as he doesn’t, as you can tell by the number of lawsuits. They have no intention of following the law,” Molnar said. “At the commission meeting, the Montana Bowhunters Association lined up limbo style again and never said a single actual fact. They simply muddied the waters. Then, (chair) Leslie Robinson stopped our attorney from explaining a question.”
Since the question related to crossbow hunting on reservations during archery season, Robinson stopped Fredrickson when he jumped in after the FWP counsel answered the question.
Kemper said bowhunters just told the truth during their testimony.
“The reality is we only deal in facts. The reality is the bowhunting orgs in Montana arguably care more about helping disabled people get into the woods than any other groups, because it’s traditional bowhunters that are working one-on-one with individuals to help them get into the field,” Kemper said. “Also no disability is the same. People try to make the argument that the crossbow is the one-size-fits-all solution for anybody with a disability. The reality is the permit-to-modify has so much room for individual adaptation and allows hunters the opportunity to hunt with equipment that is specifically designed for their disability but still falls under the definition of archery equipment.”
Jerry Davis, Montana Bowhunters Association board member, agreed that bowhunters work hard to help disabled hunters, adding that the Montana Bowhunters Association is working with FWP and legislators to try to find a funding mechanism to help disabled hunters pay for archery equipment modification.
Eleven other states limit crossbows only to firearm season, including Alaska and Washington. Those states that have opened their archery seasons to crossbows have seen problems develop with increased hunting pressure or declining ethics. Another Montana Bowhunters Association board member is from Illinois, where the wildlife agency is finding more wounded and dead animals bearing crossbow bolts, Davis said.
“The theory is they’re taking shots that are too long. (Crossbows) come with scopes and compensators inside the scopes, and if you’re shooting at a target, you can be deadly. But it takes quite a while for that bolt to arrive and that animal moves quite a bit and it can end up in a bad shot,” Davis said.
Molnar, who said a shoulder problem prevents him from being able to hold up a bow, said bowhunters are merely bigots.
“When the legislature doesn’t care and the appointed officials don’t care, you do not have a democratic republic; you have an authoritarian republic,” Molnar said. “My feelings toward those who have taken an anti-constitutional position toward the people of Montana will sustain me in this fight. I don’t care if it’s on the streets man-to-man or in the courts,” Molnar said.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at email@example.com
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Gallery Credit: Meagan Drillinger