Lighted arrow nocks now legal for Montana bowhunters

Wresting the decision from the hands of legislators, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks commission has approved the use of lighted arrow nocks, although not without reservations.

On Friday, the FWP commission voted 3-1 to allow bowhunters to use lighted nocks during archery-only season, putting an end to the question that has cropped up repeatedly for the past five years.

Arrows with lighted nocks – nocks are the end of the arrow that fits to a bowstring – glow with various colors once the arrow is loosed. They help hunters see where the arrow goes so they can find it in low-light conditions.

Most bowhunters have been asking FWP to allow lighted nocks, especially after 2014 when Pope and Young, the preeminent national bowhunting club, included lighted nocks in their Fair Chase rule. Of the 1,500 comments FWP received since December, most were in support.

A few bills legalizing lighted nocks have shown up in the Legislature since 2011, but so far, all have been tabled. Part of the reason is the opposition of bowhunting purists who say lighted nocks are just one more instance of the “technological creep” that is changing what they prize as a traditional pastime.

Steve Schindler of Glasgow said Friday that the Traditional Bowhunters of Montana oppose all electronic changes to the bow or arrow.

Tim Roberts of Fort Benton said lighted nocks wouldn’t help with game retrieval because an arrow should pass through an animal if it’s a good shot.

“This (rule) allows us to say now we need game trackers included in the arrow; transmitters and whatnot with the lighted nock. This does set a precedent that does set us on a slippery slope that will be hard to climb back up afterwards. But I do realize it’s better have it done here than to have it done across the street,” Roberts said.

Across the street is the Montana Legislature where Sen. Douglas Kary, R-Billings, is prepared to sponsor Senate Bill 225, which would legalize lighted nocks. SB 225 is scheduled for a Senate Fish and Game Committee hearing on Feb. 23, but now it will likely be cancelled.

Commissioner Gary Wolfe was the one dissenting vote. While he could understand some of the arguments for lighted nocks, he worried that they might encourage hunters to take poor shots closer to the end of the day, shots they might not have taken before they could see their arrows.

“From a technology perspective, we’ve really seen how technology has changed our sports. And it certainly changed it with archery. So I am very reluctant to add technological advantages to something that was once considered a primitive weapon activity,” Wolfe said.

The other three commissioners also voiced their concern about technological creep in hunting so they weren’t completely comfortable with lighted nocks. But Commissioner Richard Stuker said he’d heard from landowners who said lighted nocks might help them see lost arrows so they could save their tractor and 4-wheeler tires from being punctured.

Chairman Dan Vermillion said he might have some philosophical issues, but he couldn’t find a good biological reason to oppose lighted nocks.

“There has been a bill introduced to do what the commission will do today,” Vermillion said. "This is an opportunity for the commission to take this off the legislative table and keep that authority with the commission. It’s not forever. And if it becomes a problem, one of the important reasons to have commission authority is that we are much more responsive to be able to address any abuses.”