Can A Felon Own A Bow And Arrow? How About A Crossbow?

Written By Ron Parker 

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If you’re adjusting to life with a felony conviction, you’ve probably got plenty of questions about how much of your normal life can be resumed, particularly when it comes to hunting season, like can a felon own a bow.

Though federal laws will certainly leave you with some hunting restrictions – and the loss of your firearms – there are plenty of ways you can still make the most of the season, even as a convicted felon.

Is A Bow And Arrow Considered A Firearm?

While a bow and arrow, crossbow, or compound bow is undoubtedly a deadly weapon, it’s not considered a firearm – and that’s the crucial point when considering your options for hunting season.

Under the 1968 Gun Control Act, felons are prohibited from owning firearms, even if they committed non-violent crimes.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives defines a firearm as a weapon that “will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.”

Because bows and arrows – even mechanized ones – aren’t explosive weapons, it’s not included within the Gun Control Act, and that means that under federal law, convicted felons are generally able to purchase and use them, with some provisos.

You’ll need to apply for a hunting license and adhere to the strict laws governing bow hunting season, which may vary from gun hunting season in your area.

Bow and arrow ownership for convicted felons

felon with a bow

Hunting isn’t just an outdoor activity, it’s a way of life. For many people, particularly in rural areas, it’s a source of food and income that makes it feel more like a basic right than a luxury.

If you’ve got a felony charge, one of the toughest prospects can be the possibility of missing out on this highlight of your year. But this doesn’t actually have to be the case.

Will a conviction see you face extra hunting restrictions? Sure – but plenty of felons hunt successfully and legally every season, with just a few tweaks to their arsenal and their calendar.

Though you likely won’t retain your right to bear arms in the traditional sense, you can still enjoy target practice and hunting with traditional or compound bows or crossbows.

Does a Felony Conviction differ from State to State?

The effect of your conviction on your hunting plans will depend largely on where you live.

Most states allow felons to hunt with traditional or mechanized bows, or even with pellet guns, which use C02 rather than explosives to fire projectiles, and so aren’t categorized as firearms.

Other states, though, make it a little bit more complicated. Depending on the felony committed, you’ll face other hunting restrictions in some states, particularly if your felony involved a weapon.

So, it’s well worth speaking to your lawyer and local hunting authorities to get a clear picture of what you can legally do without flouting federal law.

Some state laws have more leniency when it comes to your ability to regain your gun rights, too.

In Louisiana, for example, you’ll be able to apply for reinstatement ten years after your conviction, assuming you haven’t picked up any further charges or a pesky parole violation along the way.

Can A Felon Own A Bow In Colorado

Though convicted felons and non-felons alike are generally able to possess mechanical and traditional bows, the only state that makes this particularly difficult is Colorado.

Though all states prohibit felons from owning firearms, Colorado’s ban extends to any weapon that’s capable of causing grievous harm. Although the legislation is murky on whether this actually includes crossbows and compound bows, it’s generally read that way.

People who flout the law can get penalized with possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) charge.

A POWPO charge is a serious business – it’s a class 6 felony in its own right and will land you with 12-18 months behind bars with one year of mandatory parole, plus a fine that can stretch to $100,000.

If your initial felony conviction was within the last ten years, this could be even harsher. Repeated offenses will see an increase in both prison time and fines issued.

As a Colorado resident, you do have one option for restoring your access to hunting weapons. It’s possible to apply for a Governor’s Pardon if you have a history of good conduct and can provide statements of character from your sentencing judge and district and prosecuting attorneys, though these are usually only processed ten years post-conviction. There’s no guarantee you’ll be awarded a Pardon.

Without it, you won’t be able to possess firearms and could be at risk of getting charged with repeated offenses of possession.

RELATED: SAS Courage Recurve Bow Review

Can A Felon Own A Bow In Florida?

Yes, a felon can own a bow in Florida. According to the Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission, A felon may not own or possess firearms, including muzzleloader firearms, but they can hunt with recurve bows, compound bows, crossbows and air guns during the season in which such hunting implements are legal.

They can also have their right to possess firearms reinstated by the state’s clemency board.

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Can A Felon Own A Crossbow?

Felon with a crossbow

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Yes, a felon can own a crossbow in most states.

Unlike a traditional bow, which requires you to draw back the arrow and release it manually, a crossbow is a mechanized weapon that draws the bolt, or arrow, back into a mainframe, to create tension that’s then released with the pull of a trigger and benefitting from mechanical reloading.

There are ordinarily some further restrictions on crossbows over traditional bows, because of the fact that they’re largely mechanical means that they can cause more harm.

Although, generally speaking, you’ll be able to get a hunting license to use crossbows in certain situations in most states.

Can A Felon Own A Compound Bow?

Yes, a felon can own a compound bow in most states.

The compound bow is the most commonly used type of bow in the US. That’s because its design means that it has all the benefits of a crossbow, with a powerful mechanized system that creates tension on the bow’s limbs and then releases it, giving you increased force and accuracy, but generally with less effort required on your part than a crossbow.

Because a compound bow isn’t a firearm, there are limited legal restrictions on its use. So, if you’re a convicted felon and owning firearms is out of the question for your hunting season, you should still be able to get a hunting license and enjoy bow hunting.

You’ll need to make sure you’re aware of your state’s regulations on compound bows, as this can vary.

For example, South Dakota doesn’t allow a let-off of more than 80%, and most states will require the minimum draw weight to be between 30 to 40 pounds. In Rhode Island, that’s 150 pounds.

Click here to learn the difference between a crossbow vs compound bow.

Can Felons Bow Hunt?

Bow Hunter

Yes felons can bow hunt in most states.

State laws vary in their approach to allowing convicted felons to hunt, but although you’ll have to cross firearm ownership off your bucket list for the foreseeable future, in most cases you’ll be able to participate in plenty of fruitful bow hunting seasons.

Check your local laws, get a hunting license, and be sure to stay safe, savvy, and careful out hunting. Otherwise, you could face further hunting restrictions.

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Do you need a hunting license to Bow Hunt?

You’ll almost certainly be allowed to hunt and enjoy target shooting with a recurve bow, compound bows, or crossbows. But it’s essential that you procure a hunting license – whether you’ve committed a felony or not.

Many state laws don’t require a criminal background check in order to get a hunting license, but don’t be tempted to try to undermine federal laws and sneak your way to firearm ownership.

The penalties for unlawful possession are harsh, and without a firearm permit, you’ll face further felony charges.

Felons Should Consult With A Legal Expert In Their State

Of course, if you’ve got a felony conviction under your belt, it’s wise to get the official go-ahead from the local authorities.

Getting legal help and consulting your lawyer prior to your hunting license application isn’t a bad idea, and if you’re on probation, your parole officer is a great place to start.

By keeping them abreast of your plans for hunting season, you’ll be able to request documentation if, for example, you’re asked for character references when applying for your hunting license.

Because the laws differ from state to state, it’s always a smart call to get in touch with the local legal authority from hunting to confirm your status and rights, the exact dates of archery season, and to register any archery equipment you may need to in order to stay on the right side of the law.

Though it’s an extra bit of admin, it’s incredibly important to fit it in, because getting it wrong can result in the loss of your hunting privileges or worse.

Depending on where you live, and how long it’s been since your conviction, you may also be able to apply for clemency and have your gun ownership rights restored.

This typically isn’t an option in the first few years post-conviction, but in Florida, for example, you can begin to start the process for regaining civil rights to firearms after eight years.

Take care to stay on the right side of the law

Man in handcuffs

Enjoying bow hunting season after a felony charge isn’t just about making sure your paperwork’s in order and your weapons are in order. It’s also about ensuring you’re avoiding any scenarios that could break the law.

For example, you’ll have to be conscious of your target practice locations – you won’t be able to use a shooting range that’s being used by firearm shooters, for example.

You can also find yourself in a sticky situation if you catch a lift with other hunters – just being in a vehicle with firearms is considered constructive possession if you know about them and would feasibly be able to take control of them.

Final Thoughts – Can A Felon Own A Bow?

We have taken an in-depth look at the question: Can a felon own a bow?

Though a felony conviction will almost certainly mean your hunting seasons will look a little bit different, you’ll almost certainly be able to enjoy the thrill of bowhunting and the fun of target shooting – as long as you’re not in Colorado.

RELATED: DeerSeeker Takedown Recurve Bow Review

Photo of author

Ron Parker

Ron is an archery instructor and expert bow hunter that lives with his wife and kids in central Ohio. When he is not teaching archery or in the woods bow hunting deer, he is writing informative articles for

8 thoughts on “Can A Felon Own A Bow And Arrow? How About A Crossbow?”

  1. Was going to say here in Utah good luck owning a bow, or crossbow without being charged for a crime, and the cops taking everything.

    • Hey kevin,

      Yes, every state handles these things differently. It is always recommended that you seek legal counsel in your state.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

  2. Well I’d like to thank all you guys who left some information on hunting with a bow or crossbow. I’m trying to take my 17 year old son hunting this year and I live in Texas I will need to see what it cost to do so thank again.

  3. In 1987 my Bucks County probation officer told me I could own a gun once my probation was up for receiving stolen property because it wasn’t a crime of violence. Unfortunately he was voicing Pennsylvania laws without regards to the US Gun Control Act. Two years later one of the gun shops I did business with ended up under investigation and all the 4473 forms were reviewed for compliance. As a result I ended up with ATF agents at my door in 1989. This was before the Internet and many county and state level officials were unaware of the restrictions under 18 USC 922. Better to consult a licensed attorney familiar with hunting laws.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for adding some valuable information to the article.

      Your advice is spot on. It is always better to consult with an attorney familiar with not only the state laws, but the federal laws regulating bows and compound bows.

      Thanks again Chris!


  4. Thank you for the information. My friends grandson is convicted of two felony charges. He is 17 right now and hasn’t even finished his punishment yet, but is already talking to his grandpa about hunting with a bow and maybe getting to carry a gun again while hunting. He is young and his grandpa didn’t know much. We live in Montana, so at least you explained some so I can inform his grandpa when he does get out, so Beau doesn’t get right back into trouble.Thank you very much. I really am worried about what he should and shouldn’t do. We are a very small town. God Bless

    • Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      We hope that your friend’s grandson finds his way. Hunting can be a great way for a young man to spend time alone in nature and reflect on what he would like to accomplish with his life.

      Thanks again Kelly,


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