By MICHAEL PUFFER | The Republican-American

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — A mix of premium access to hunting land, legal changes and popular culture is fueling a bow hunting boom in Connecticut.

“I've seen a big pickup in classes,” said Jason Marshall, a chief archery instructor for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “I think a lot of it had to do with younger kids signing up because of the `Hunger Games' movie.”

This wave of interest is reflected in numbers of people seeking bow hunting training, and following through with state hunting permits.

In fiscal year 2014, 2,868 people graduated DEEP bow hunting safety courses. That number has nearly doubled since fiscal 2010, when 1,481 graduated.

Bowhunting permits have been on the rise in the past three years, from 13,179 in 2011 to 15,800 in 2013.

Last year, for the first time recorded by DEEP, the number of deer taken by bow and arrow beat the total taken with firearms—6,046 to 4,340.

Marshall said the legalization of crossbow hunting statewide last year is another big factor. His archery classes are packed. These days, he asks how many people are signing up specifically so they can use crossbows.

“Now, half the class raises their hands,” Marshall said.

Northwest Sporting Goods in Winsted opened an archery range and shop last year in response to rising demand. Manager Scott Murray is studying to become a certified state instructor.

“If you try going online to sign up with a bow hunting safety course, they're filled within an hour,” Murray said.

Murray cites a mix of pop culture and legalized crossbow hunting. But he also sees the state's restrictive firearms laws as a factor.

Barry Hall, owner of Newbury Archery, a 29-year-old shop in Goshen, doesn't subscribe to the pop culture theory. But he is seeing a huge increase in women interested in shooting conventional bows. They come from all walks of life, including nurses, doctors and lawyers. Many want to hunt. Many simply want to target shoot.

“Some Saturdays that's all I see is ladies,” Hall said. “It's wonderful to see the women step up to the plate.”

Hall believes interest in crossbow hunting is the biggest factor in the current increase. With their rifle stocks and telescopic sights, people often find crossbows easier and more accurate than more conventional bows.

Hall and other experts say those buyers quickly find out that's something of a myth. The crossbow has both advantages and drawbacks. A crossbow bolt is nowhere near as fast as a bullet, and deer move at the twang of a string, which can cause a missed shot if the distance is too great, experts say.

Hall said it simply isn't ethical to try to shoot with a crossbow beyond 20 to 25 yards, at least not for people new to crossbows.

“If you're shooting at paper targets there's no limit (to range),” Hall said. “But paper doesn't move.”

Hunting experts also say a far longer season and easier, less restrictive land requirements have tempted many hunters to take up bows.

For archers, the deer-hunting season opened Sept. 15, and will run as late as Jan. 31 on privately owned lands in southern parts of the state deemed by DEEP to have too many deer. (The Jan. 1 to Jan. 31 season is unique to those DEEP-flagged areas only.) For hunters with shotguns and rifles, the season opens Nov. 19 and can run to Jan. 31.

With firearms, one needs to be at least 500 feet away from a house. There's no such restriction with bows.

And then, there's the perception that bow hunting is safer.

James Strecker, president of Bristol Fish & Game Association, said he has seen a lot of people move from guns to bows.

“I know a lot of people who will only allow hunting with a bow,” said Bristol Fish & Game Association President James Strecker. “It all boils down to land and access to land.”

Torrington Rod and Gun Club President Thomas Costa said about 10 percent of his club's members have taken up bows in the past three years. A lot of his members are interested in crossbows.

“My son is starting with bow hunting this year,” Costa said. “I'm probably going to do it next year. It's a different type of hunt and it gets you out in the woods more. For a lot of guys, that's just what it is about.”