The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) has rejected a proposal to expand crossbow hunting in Minnesota.

At the group’s annual meeting last weekend, chapter leaders and other MDHA members from throughout the state debated whether to support use of crossbows by licensed archery deer hunters.

Minnesota law currently limits crossbow hunting for deer to hunters at least 60 years old and those with physical challenges. (Properly licensed, anyone can hunt with a crossbow during firearms season for deer, bear and turkey.)

Nationwide, 26 states, including Wisconsin, allow crossbow use for deer hunting by anyone who buys a special license.

The MDHA crossbow idea was proposed by the group’s Brainerd chapter.

MDHA encourages its chapters to develop wildlife management ideas to present to its statewide board before being brought to all chapter representatives for a vote.

No doubt many non-archers in Minnesota want to hunt deer with a crossbow. But the archery industry is perhaps the primary driver behind expanding crossbow hunting.

The reason: As baby-boomer archers age, drawing back bowstrings is among the first sporting activities abandoned. Sometimes a torn rotator cuff is the reason. More commonly, the onset of generalized weakness is why older archers hang up their bows.

The archery industry knows this, and it wants to avoid a downturn by boosting crossbow sales.

Even some gun hunters also oppose the expansion of crossbow hunting. They worry the deer harvest could be skewed, particularly the buck harvest, and perhaps especially that of big bucks.

Archers, after all, are in the field nearly two months in Minnesota before most rifle and shotgun hunters chamber a single round.

Bow hunters also worry the quality of Minnesota archery deer hunting could decline if additional hunters — perhaps lots of them — go afield in the fall, attracted to crossbow hunting in part because it requires little practice to achieve marksmanship competency.

“Those of our members in Grand Rapids Saturday who supported the crossbow idea looked at it as a way to get more people involved with hunting,” MDHA executive director Craig Engwall said.

“Those who opposed it worried about a shift in the buck harvest, and that crossbow hunting might bring too many people into the archery season.”

Saturday’s crossbow debate wasn’t highly charged, Engwall said. Opponents and proponents simply stated the reasons for their positions.

Expected to be close, the vote among MDHA chapters was just that: The crossbow idea was rejected 56 to 44 percent.

The idea could still someday advance in the Legislature. But MDHA’s opposition will tamp its chances for passage. For now.