Olmsted County officials alarmed by DNR legislative proposal allowing hunters to use guns – Reuters

ROCHESTER — Hunters in southern Minnesota would be free to use guns when hunting deer under a legislative provision that would lift the shotgun-only rule that currently exists in the lower half of the state.

But the proposal worries Olmsted County elected officials and law enforcement, who say the area’s terrain and population density make it unsuitable for high-powered rifles.

Currently, hunters in northern Minnesota are permitted to use shotguns to hunt game like deer, while their counterparts in the southern half are restricted to using shotguns using only slugs, muzzleloaders and handguns.

The legislative provision, supported by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, would eliminate this distinction.

So far, county and township elected officials have reacted with dismay and dismay to the proposal, not least because they were unaware that this proposed change was coming until recently.

Many first heard of the idea two weeks ago at a meeting of officers from the Olmsted County Townships Association when State Senator Dave Senjem raised the issue, asking advice to county commissioners and township officers.

The mood in the room was against the idea, said several people who attended the meeting.

“From my perspective, it’s about safety and potential property damage,” Senjem said. “A rifle (bullet) just travels a lot farther than a shotgun (slug). And we certainly have wooded areas near Rochester where hunting takes place.

Shortly after the meeting, Olmsted County Commissioner Mark Thein and Sheriff Kevin Torgerson sent a letter to Senator Mary Kiffemeyer, chair of a Senate committee dealing with the matter, raising concerns about the proposal.

“The county is unsure why this change is necessary and is concerned about safety given the terrain and population density in our county,” the letter said. “Olmsted County has many suburban residential developments, hobby farms, and towns that contain or adjoin woods and agricultural fields that are likely locations for hunting and other game.

“With the very long trajectory of rifle fire, we believe changing hunting areas will put people at risk of injury or death.”

Several elected officials said one of the reasons the proposal surprised and appalled them was that they were unaware of an outpouring of hunter support for such a provision.

“There’s no one I’ve spoken to who thinks it’s a good idea,” said John Johnson, president of the Olmsted County Officers’ Association and council member for Haverhill Township.

The concern comes from the difference in firepower and bullet trajectory between a shotgun and a rifle. A 12 gauge bullet will travel over 300 yards. It will run flat for about 200 yards and at the 300 yard mark the slug will drop 4 feet. By contrast, centerfire projectiles from rifles can travel for miles.

Johnson said such a proposal, if passed, could backfire on hunters. Landowners who have allowed hunters access to their property in the past might change their minds knowing that a high-powered rifle is being used.

Johnson said he has a patch about six miles east of Rochester that he allows hunters to use, but would not allow guns to be used on his property.

“It would be, ‘you can hunt here, but you’re not using a high-powered rifle,'” Johnson said. “It’s out of respect for me and my neighbors. But the problem is, what about the property next to me? »

Proponents of the idea offer three reasons for the change: the evolving nature of guns and ammunition, the cautious nature of hunters themselves, and the fact that counties could choose to keep their areas restricted to shotguns. if they wish.

Ammunition and firearms have evolved in such a way that the differences between shotguns and rifles have, if not entirely eliminated, been blurred, advocates argue. Currently, hunters are allowed to use handguns of any caliber in the shotgun-only areas, and there are handguns with the characteristics of a rifle.

“You can get a 30.06 in a handgun, which is basically a shotgun shell,” said DNR enforcement director Rod Smith.

He also notes that people are allowed to use guns anywhere in the state to shoot predators such as coyotes.

Hunters also say the difference between the northern and southern halves of the state in terms of big game hunting rules is based less on safety and more on deer population.

Northern Minnesota was once home to far more deer than the southern half. This justified the use of more powerful and more accurate guns, making it easier to kill deer.

Southern Minnesota, which has fewer deer, passed shotgun-only rules that protected and managed the population. But that’s no longer true. Some areas of southern Minnesota are teeming with deer.

“We talked to DNR extensively, and the separation between the shotgun area and the rifle area was not necessarily a safety issue,” Smith said. “It was about managing the hunters’ harvest.

“So when you’re in an agricultural area you can obviously see a lot further and have the ability to pick up a deer from greater distances,” Smith said. “And so one way to handle harvesting in the farmland area was to use a shotgun slug because it wouldn’t travel that far.”

Smith also says counties have the option to maintain the status quo by passing a shotgun-only ordinance. But legal responsibility for enforcing the ordinance would shift from the DNR to the sheriff’s department. The deputies would in effect become the game wardens.

It’s not a prospect that excites Torgerson.

“Now we have one more thing for our deputies to do, go around and check the hunters and do the DNR work,” Torgerson said.

Proponents of the change also argue that hunters would hopefully still be guided by the same sense of caution and etiquette under the new rule. Well-trained hunters, whether armed with a shotgun or a rifle, learn not to shoot a deer at the top of a ridge line if they don’t know what is above. of the.

Legislative observers note that the proposed change is in a Senate bill but there is no House version. That could doom him, at least for this session. The State House, controlled by Democrats, who are generally gun control inclined, may not be in the mood to hear gun-related bills.

Thein, chairman of the Olmsted County Commissioners, said no one on the council spoke in favor of the DNR’s proposal at a meeting on Wednesday.

Thein said if the shotgun restriction is lifted by the legislature, he would be inclined to submit a proposal to the council to maintain the status quo.

“It’s a security issue,” Thein said. “We are not up north in the forest where there is a house for every square mile. Our population density is such that if you have a bullet that can travel (long distances), there’s a chance something bad will happen.

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