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Air rifles, arrow guns on TPW Commission agenda

August 19, 2018

By November’s opening of the general hunting season for white-tailed deer, the state’s hunters could be allowed to do something that previously had not been legal: take their venison — as well as alligator, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, javelina and turkey — with devices that use compressed air to propel bullets or arrows.

And in coming hunting seasons, those air rifle/arrow gun carriers and Texas hunters toting traditional firearms and archery equipment may, if they participate in the state’s public hunting programs, have an additional 25 square miles of rugged Trans-Pecos landscape on which to pursue deer, quail and other game.

Black Gap on docket

At Thursday’s public meeting in Austin, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission will decide the fate of proposals to legalize certain air rifles and arrow guns for use in hunting some popular game species and move forward with a deal to add 16,000 acres to the state’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area.

The proposal to make air rifles and arrow guns lawful for the taking of game animals and some game birds is a modified version of a proposal the TPW Commission approved earlier this year and then rescinded after commissioners expressed concerns that the rule change would allow use of air-powered devices not sufficiently lethal.

The revised proposal specifies that the arrow guns and “big-bore” air rifles must be “pre-charged pneumatics” that use “unignited compressed gas” as the projectile (bullet, arrow or bolt) propellant. Under the change, “break-action,” “pump action” and “canister” charging systems would not be lawful for big-bore air rifles or arrow guns.

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The revised rule change for air rifles includes a minimum bore size as well as a minimum weight and muzzle energy of projectiles. “Big-bore” air rifles that could be used to take alligators, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, javelina and turkey would be required to fire a projectile at least .30-caliber in size with a minimum bullet weight of 150 grains fired at a minimum muzzle velocity of 800 feet per second, or any combination of bullet weight and muzzle velocity producing a minimum muzzle energy of 215 foot-pounds.

Arrows or bolts used in arrow guns would be required to meet the same requirements as currently apply to arrows and bolts used in traditional archery and crossbow hunting.

Air guns used to hunt non-migratory game birds other than turkey would be required to have a minimum bullet size of .177 caliber and a minimum muzzle velocity of 600 feet per second. Air guns used to take squirrels and upland game birds other than turkey would not be required to be charged externally.

These pneumatic guns would be legal to use only during the general hunting seasons; arrow guns would not be allowed during archery-only hunting seasons.

The proposed changes to the rules also would add language requiring persons born after Sept. 1, 1971 and hunting with air rifles or arrow guns to have completed a TPWD-approved hunter education course — the same hunter education requirement as for those who use firearms or archery equipment.

Under current Texas law, squirrels are the only game animal that legally can be taken by an air-propelled projectile. But arrow guns and big-bore air rifles are legal in Texas for taking exotics such as axis deer and non-game animals such as feral hogs.

The move to legalize use of air rifles and arrow guns comes in the wake of an increased interest in the devices. Guns using compressed air to propel a projectile have been around for more than 200 years; the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery carried an air rifle during their 1804-06 expedition. But recent advancements in the technology used to manufacture the devices, especially the big-bore rifles and the arrow guns, has increased the availability and use of the guns.

Change could be quick

If the TPW Commission, after hearing public comments on the proposal, approves the staff-recommended changes at Thursday’s meeting, the rule change could take effect as early as late September or early October, ahead of the start of most 2018 hunting seasons.

If the change is adopted, Texas would join a dozen other states that have approved use of big-bore air rifles for hunting big-game species such as white-tailed deer.

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The commission also is scheduled to act on a staff request to proceed with proposed land transaction that would add 16,000 acres to Black Gap Wildlife Management Area.

The Texas General Land Office owns the 25-square-mile Brewster County tract adjacent to TPWD’s 103,000-acre Black Gap WMA, just east of Big Bend National Park. The GLO-owned parcel has an 11-mile common boundary with Black Gap WMA and seven miles of frontage along a section of the Rio Grande, and its rugged, rocky terrain holds high-quality wildlife habitat.

The tract, which is home to desert bighorn sheep, black bear, Gambel’s and scaled quail, mountain lions and other endemic Trans-Pecos wildlife, “is noted for its important wildlife value,” Bill Tarrant of TPWD’s wildlife division told the Commission during an April briefing.

The GLO is divesting itself of property it holds in the region. Should the contiguous 16,000-acre tract adjacent to Black Gap WMA be sold to a private buyer, subdivision and development “could significantly compromise the long-term conservation vision for this region,” TPWD staff proposal notes. The two state agencies have been in discussions about terms and conditions concerning TPWD’s possible purchase of the tract.

The property currently is leased to the Texas Bighorn Society, a hunter-based conservation organization working to restore and enhance desert bighorn sheep and wildlife habitat in the Trans-Pecos. For the last few years, TPWD staff has worked with the organization to manage the property. Adding it to the WMA would enhance the WMA without resulting in additional operating expenses, Tarrant said during the briefing earlier this year.

Federal funds proposed

Acquiring the 16,000-acre property could be accomplished without any cash outlay. TPWD proposes using the federal Pittman-Robertson Fund program to purchase the tract. The Pittman-Robertson Fund is a federal wildlife matching grants program funded by federal excise taxes paid on firearms and ammunition, with that money disbursed to the states for approved wildlife-related projects.

Under the contemplated deal, Texas would seek a Pittman-Robertson Fund grant for 75 percent of the purchase cost with the state required to provide the remaining 25 percent. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, a non-governmental group that raises private money for TPWD projects, has expressed interest in working to raise private donations covering the state’s 25 percent of the estimated $7.2 million to $8 million the GLO will ask for the land.

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If the TPW Commission grants the staff request for authorization to pursue the acquisition, the 25-square-mile parcel would become part of Black Gap WMA. The sprawling WMA long has been a crucial site for wildlife and land management research, including restoration of desert bighorn sheep to the state.

Black Gap WMA also is a part of the state’s public hunting lands program, offering public hunts for mule deer, javelina, dove and quail. Portions of the tract are open to other recreation, including hiking, fishing and horseback riding during parts of the year. If acquired, the 16,000-acre GLO tract would be incorporated into the public access program, agency staff said.

shannon.tompkins@chron.com

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