Outdoors

Bowhunter gets cool reception in campaign to legalize lighted arrow nocks

Jim Sutton of Spokane displays arrows with lighted nocks, which he believes should be allowed for hunting in Washington. (Rich Landers)
Jim Sutton of Spokane displays arrows with lighted nocks, which he believes should be allowed for hunting in Washington. (Rich Landers)

A Spokane sportsman says the state should consider his bright idea for reducing the number of deer and elk wasted by archery hunters.

“Allowing lighted nocks is a no-brainer to me,” said Jim Sutton, referring to an LED light in the fletching end of an arrow that illuminates upon release by the bowstring’s thrust.

Washington hunting regulations prohibit the use of certain modern and electronic equipment such as lighted sights and nocks for use during the special primitive weapons seasons.

“A lighted nock doesn’t give a hunter an advantage in killing a big-game animal,” Sutton said. “But it offers him 40 hours of assistance in finding the arrow – and the clues he needs to determine his next step in recovering a dead or wounded deer.

“It’s a conservation measure,” he said, noting that 45 states allow lighted nocks for bowhunting.

Sutton has discussed the proposal with state wildlife officials several times, including a detailed presentation to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission during its March meeting in Spokane.

But Department of Fish and Wildlife officials haven’t taken the proposal seriously because none of three state archery organizations has endorsed it.

“The agency likes to have the support of organized sportsmen before moving ahead with rule changes,” said Kevin Robinette, WDFW regional wildlife manager in Spokane.

Sutton says no one should expect the Washington Traditional Bowhunters to support use lighted nocks, since the group is organized for the purpose of promoting traditional archery equipment.

But the State Archery Association and the State Bowhunters Association also balk at the proposal.

“I wish they’d support it,” Sutton said. “We’d save deer.”

Complicating the issue, the Pope and Young Club, the official keeper for bowhunting records, categorically prohibits “the use of a bow or arrow to which any electronic device is attached.”

Lacking a statistically viable study, Sutton conducted a survey of 50 bowhunters he contacted randomly at a meeting in March. He said he personally knew only two of them.

The results supported what most archers already know as their dark little secret: They wound a lot of game.

Most of the bowhunters said they had wounded and lost a deer in recent years, Sutton said. “My survey indicates there might be 2.5 percent wounding loss by archers in a season, and that’s conservative,” he said.

This information is at least supported by a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks study on elk wounding lost conducted in the late 1980s. Researchers found that of the bowhunters who hit an elk with an arrow, only about 50 percent were able to recover the animal.

Using his survey results and adjusting to nearly 25,000 licensed archers who hunt deer each year, Sutton believes allowing lighted nocks could save hundreds of deer a year in Washington, maybe more than 1,000.

“It’s not just the deer that’s wounded and lost,” he said.

“When they can’t find the deer they wounded, most of the hunters say they continue hunting through the season and 1.3 percent of them shoot another deer. In each case, that’s two dead deer when maybe there could have been only one.”

Dave Ware, WDFW state game manager, hesitated to accept Sutton’s enthusiasm for lighted nocks, Sutton said, equating them with night vision scopes, heat-vision equipment and lighted sights.

“That’s nonsense,” Sutton said. “Those are tools that give a hunter an advantage in harvesting an animal. A lighted nock is a recovery tool. There’s no advantage other than that.

“Traditional bowhunters contend you can shoot later at night with lighted nocks – as if they’re tracer rounds or something – and if you miss an animal it encourages further unethical shooting.

“I say if a guy is going to take a 50-yard shot after hours, he’s unethical, period, and it doesn’t matter what’s on his equipment.”

Sutton became adamant about promoting the legalization of lighted nocks last fall after his daughter shot and wounded a trophy whitetail buck on their property in northeast Spokane.

“We waited after she shot it, but we went in too soon and bumped the buck before it was dead,” he said.

They found the buck the next day and recovered the trophy, but the meat was spoiled.

“I recovered that deer only because it was where I could get friends and devote a lot of time to looking,” he said. “If it had been out at a hunting camp or on a weekend when we had to get home, we probably wouldn’t have found it.

“A lot of the opportunities a bowhunter gets are in the last hurrah of shooting hours.”

A lighted nock, he said, has the potential to help by:

• Helping the hunter pinpoint where the animal was hit.

• Allowing a hunter to find the arrow, whether it’s in the deer or in the field.

• Assuring the hunter can study the arrow to help determine where the animal was struck.

“A heart shot leaves very dark blood on the arrow with no smell to it,” he said. “A lung shot leaves pink frothy blood. These shots kill quickly and the animal can be approached in 35-40 minutes without it running off.”

But if a hunter sees or smells bile or offal on the arrow, the deer likely has been shot in the liver or gut and several hours will be required for it to seize up.

Landowners would welcome lighted nocks, Sutton says, and some might restore opportunities to hunt on private land where ranchers and farmers don’t want to risk dangerous lost broadheads in their fields.

“Every bowhunter has lost arrows in the field, and sometimes several in a season,” he said. “Even an arrow with neon yellow fletching can be hard to find buried in the grass. But with a lighted nock, you have a much better chance.”

Archery stores would benefit from legalizing lighted knocks. “They’d sell a bunch of them right away,” he said. “Probably 95 percent of the archers I queried at the Big Horn Show said they’d buy them.”

Jim Shockey, the Outdoor Channel’s globetrotting hunter, was surprised after speaking to Sutton last spring before the outfitter presented a program for a sportsman’s club banquet.

Sutton asked him his opinion of lighted nocks.

“They’re not legal here?” Shockey said. “What’s your problem?”

Sutton shakes his head at the argument that lighted nocks erode the primitive nature of bowhunting that allows archers to have more liberal seasons.

“Compound bows are not primitive,” he said.

State Fish and Wildlife officials shouldn’t wait for organized bowhunting clubs to formally vote on allowing lighted nocks for hunting, Sutton said.

“The statewide groups represent only about 8 percent of the bowhunters in Washington, yet my survey and my contacts with archers indicate that 95 percent of them would like to see lighted nocks legal.”



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