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During an August 1 meeting, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Game Commission voted to approve the use of “air-powered arrow rifles” during the state’s regular big game rifle seasons. More commonly known as airbows, the weapons were introduced to the U.S. hunting market in 2016. They resemble rifles at first glance but use thousands of pounds of compressed air to deliver arrows with lethal accuracy at distances of 50 yards or more.  

The commission’s decision came several months after the Oklahoma state legislature passed a bill that permitted the use of airbows for hunting during any rifle season. That bill, SB 1517, was signed by the governor in May 2022, and it paved the way for the Commission’s recent vote. With its unanimous approval of the new rules, the commission officially incorporated the sometimes controversial technology into the Sooner State’s big-game hunting regulations. Prior to the Aug. 1 vote, airbows were only permitted for hunting small game and hogs in Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma isn’t the only state that has adopted rules in recent years allowing airbows for hunting. Mississippi passed a bill last spring allowing airbows for deer hunting, and eleven other states permit some form of big-game hunting with the new technology. In Georgia and South Carolina, hunters can use airbows when taking an alligator. In other states, they’re used for hunting coyotes or feral hogs. 

At the recent meeting, the Oklahoma Game Commission sought to separate airbows from the rules governing more primitive weapons, like compound bows and muzzleloading rifles. “There is nothing about that weapon that constitutes a bow and shooting an arrow in the conventional sense,” said Wildlife Commissioner James Barwick. “It’s a pneumatic, air-compressed weapon.”  

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According to the Oklahoman, airbows don’t qualify for Pittman-Robertson excise taxes when purchased from retailers. To get around this problem, SB 1571 requires a special $20 permit fee for any hunter planning to use an airbow during the regular big-game rifle season. The data collected when fees are applied may be used to survey hunters about the effectiveness of airbows once the season is over, the commission said. “That’ll give us information that lets us know who actually uses that weapon,” Barwick said. “As a follow-up, we might do a study afterwards to see what people thought of that.”