The battle percolating in an Illinois courtroom over what qualifies as a legal hunting tool certainly has a curious Biblical zest to it.
Playing the role of tiny David, and armed appropriately with a slingshot, is John Huffer, a Native American of Cherokee and Menominee descent who goes by the name Chief A.J.
Across the aisle is Goliath — the state of Illinois Department of Natural Resources, with seemingly enough lawyers and statutes and personnel and funds to bury a lone rebel without much of a fight.
But in this case, it does not look good for the extra large Philistine — again.
Chief A.J. wants to sell his “sling bow” — best explained as a shotgun marriage between a slingshot and a crossbow — to deer hunters and wild turkey hunters in Illinois, where he lives and produces the unique piece of hunting equipment.
Illinois DNR has said no, that the sling bow can be used for small game, but that it lacks the power necessary for a humane kill with larger game, such as deer.
So the chief, a former tribal judge, has sued the state for $5 million, protesting that he is being compelled to meet certain regulatory standards that are not applied to the products of major bow manufacturers. Chief A.J. is also claiming there is a racial element to the case, given his Native American heritage.
“In Illinois, they just like to say ‘no’ to a little person,” he said.
But this is no shrinking violet of a little person. Chief A.J. is best described as part P.T. Barnum, a good dose of Annie Oakley, a generous slice of the spirited warrior Geronimo, with more than a trace of F. Lee Bailey, and some Ron Popiel of Pocket Fisherman fame sprinkled on top.
“I’ve always wondered what is around the next bend in the river,” said the 76-year-old former Marine, who says he has sold many of his sling bows around the world, shipping them to places such as Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, Malaysia, and Italy. He claims to send sling bows to the United Kingdom nearly every day.
The hunting tool is legal for big game in 30 states, Chief A.J. said, but not in Illinois, or in Ohio or Michigan, where the sling bow fails to meet the criteria as a legal hunting firearm or bow, as defined by statute.
Chief A.J., who said his first slingshot came from a fork in an apple tree and was fashioned by his grandfather in the German family that adopted him from an orphanage, claims that innovations which threaten to change traditional hunting practices have often been hit with resistance.
“Some states get it, and have OK’d using primitive weapons, but they are so stuck in the box here in Illinois that they won’t consider it. Remember, there were a lot of people fighting archery hunting when Fred Bear first came along,” he said, citing the bow hunting pioneer.
Although some have criticized Huffer as being too much of a showman and a braggart, there is no questioning Chief A.J.’s shooting skills. Over an eight-day stretch at age 50, he used a .22 rifle to hit more than 40,000 small wooden blocks tossed into the air — without a miss. At 71, Chief A.J. shot more than 1,400 moving targets with a slingshot.
His shooting prowess has landed him on National Geographic television, and prompted the Daisy company to name a special edition BB gun after him.
Chief A.J.’s sling bow shoots 28-inch arrows and sells for about $85. The hunting tools are manufactured at a machine shop in Illinois where he employs a number of Cherokees and Winnebagos, but Chief A.J. said he assembles each one himself. The premium rubber tubing he said he needs to get the maximum power from the sling bow comes from a plant in Akron.
Huffer plans to go to federal court in Urbana next week armed with engineering data that will make his case that the sling bow has the necessary power to make it a humane method for harvesting big game. He also expects to present as evidence the grizzly bear he took in Alaska with the sling bow and a moose he shot in Utah.
“I’ve used a sling bow to kill a moose and a grizzly bear, two of the largest game animals in North America, so I am confident I have a very strong case here,” he said. “Besides, I’ve been to federal court many times, so they don’t scare me.”
Chief A.J. had a coat made from the hide of that big grizzly he dropped with his sling bow, and he plans to wear that coat into court. Like we said, it does not look good for the Philistines in this David vs. Goliath confrontation.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.