BOISE – A territorial dispute between the Legislature and Idaho Fish and Game Commission over archery equipment rules advanced to the House floor Monday.
The House Resources and Conservation Committee recommended approval of House Bill 507, which allows for the use of lighted arrow nocks and mechanical broadheads.
In doing so, the committee ignored testimony urging lawmakers to respect the commission’s rule-making authority. Instead, members chastised the commission for being “nonresponsive” to archers on this issue.
“This is a gut-wrenching thing for me,” said House Resources Chairman Marc Gibbs, R-Grace.
As a former Fish and Game commissioner himself, Gibbs said he never wanted the Legislature to trespass on the commission’s business.
However, “the commission has had ample opportunity to work on this (archery equipment) issue,” he said. “When they’re nonresponsive to the public, this is what happens. A bill comes forward… I apologize to the commission and don’t think this should happen routinely, but this time I don’t think they got it right. ”
Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, the bill sponsor, said Idaho is the only state that still prohibits lighted nocks or mechanical broadheads.
“We’re just trying to make it so hunters in Idaho have this opportunity,” he said.
The nock is the portion of an arrow that fits onto the bowstring. A lighted nock has an electronic light that makes it easier for hunters to track the flight of the arrow and recover lost arrows.
Mechanical broadheads are arrow points with movable blades that spread wide upon impact, creating larger wounds.
“The animal bleeds out faster and dies faster,” Mitchell said. “It’s more humane, and it’s easier to find them because the blood trail is deeper.”
The main intent of HB 507, he said, is to make it easier for hunters to find dead or wounded animals and thereby waste less game.
Several people testified against the legislation, primarily because they don’t want the Legislature intruding on the Fish and Game Commission’s rule-making authority.
“Our stance isn’t for or against lighted nocks,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. “Our opposition is in regard to participation… The regulation-setting process is something sportsmen are very passionate about. They like to participate. ”
Brooks said the commission’s negotiated rule-making process gives sportsmen across the state an opportunity to provide input on proposed rule changes. It’s more robust than anything the Legislature would do.
Josh Hanson, of Pocatello, agreed.
In 2020, Hanson authored a petition that collected more than 10,000 signatures, asking the commission to reconsider its opposition to lighted nocks.
“I’m in full support of lighted nocks,” he said.
Nevertheless, he thinks lawmakers should stick to their own turf when it comes to hunting rules.
“I don’t believe the Legislature should have a role in deciding what equipment we can or can’t use,” Hanson said. “The Fish and Game Commission was set up for that reason.”
Jim Fredericks, deputy director of the Idaho Fish and Game Department, said the commission’s resistance to technological improvements stems from concerns about “technology creep.”
Mechanical broadheads make it easier for archers to hit targets from farther away, he said. Consequently, they allow hunters to kill more animals – which can only result in shorter hunting seasons or fewer tags being issued.
“Increased success rates may lead to less opportunity involving shorter seasons, caps on tags or the increased use of controlled hunts,” Fredericks said. But “Idaho hunters have consistently supported maximum opportunity, preferring longer seasons and general hunts.”
Benn Brocksome, with the Idaho Sportsmen’s Alliance, testified in support of the bill – with one caveat.
“The ability for season-setting and methods of taking to be managed by the (Fish and Game) Commission is sacred to sportsmen in Idaho,” he said. “We respect that process and hope you will, too.”
The bill now goes to the full House for further action.