Hunter seeks bow exception for disability

State nixes plan; feds to review

By Electa Draper

Tuesday, April 09, 2002 - Four Corners Bureau
DURANGO - Disabled archer Tom LaQuey wants the right to hunt deer and elk in the warmth of late summer with a crossbow.

But a crossbow is an illegal hunting weapon during Colorado's archery season, and the state Division of Wildlife will not allow its use, even by the disabled. LaQuey's artificial shoulder is too weak for him to use the bows it does allow, he said.

"The whole spirit, the whole idea of the archery season is that it is for a hand-drawn bow," DOW spokesman Todd Malmsbury said Monday. "A crossbow is a mechanized weapon that is cocked and fired by the pull of a trigger, like a firearm."

But for LaQuey, a 50-year-old Allison resident, the whole idea of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is that he has the same right to participate in the same programs, at the same time, as able-bodied citizens. He said he should be able to use whatever mechanical assistance is most appropriate for his disability.

"They told me to use my teeth," LaQuey said.

In a January 2001 letter, the DOW told LaQuey about a modified bow - shot by the hunter clenching a mouth tab in his teeth to fix the string while pushing the bow out to accomplish the draw. Another option is the bow-brace, "a custom-fit chest support that may be equipped with a mechanical release."

"Those are for one-armed archers," LaQuey said. "I don't need them. They're trying to make me more disabled than I am."

He still has a left arm and shoulder, albeit a partly titanium shoulder greatly weakened because of nerve and muscle damage surrounding the prosthesis. A body brace would be cumbersome for hunting in deep timber, he said. A mouth tab wouldn't be good for his bridgework. However, the motion required by the crossbow is within the very limited range his injured shoulder affords him.

"Mr. LaQuey has focused all his energy and anger in getting permission to use a crossbow during archery season and has not considered any other options available to him," DOW Human Resource Administrator Gary Berlin said in an internal memo sent last year to Deputy Director Bruce McCloskey. Berlin could not be reached for comment Monday.

An early, warmer-weather season is important to LaQuey because the metal in his shoulder literally conducts the cold deep into his bones. So the DOW suggested that LaQuey apply for an early hunt, such as one of the several rifle seasons held in early September that also allow crossbows.

LaQuey said that he should have the right to hunt alongside other archers. So a year ago, he filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Department of the Interior is now intervening, gathering information from LaQuey on his injury and from the DOW on its policies, specifically its accommodations for disabled hunters.

The DOW receives federal money through Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We (the DOW) go to great lengths to provide opportunities, access and mechanical aids for disabled hunters," Malmsbury said. "But this is essentially asking that we allow a weapon that is illegal for everyone else to use and that the vast majority of hunters don't want in use."