Off-road hunting rules are confounding at best

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 19, 2008 - 1:56 AM

The DNR announced rule changes Thursday designed to avoid conflicts between recreational riders and those pursuing game. Some make sense; others do not.

Hunters, hunters who ride off-highway vehicles (OHVs) and recreational OHV riders can be forgiven if they're confused by the Department of Natural Resources announcement Thursday that OHVs will be banned from "DNR forest trails'' during most upcoming firearms deer hunting seasons.

The DNR said the action is intended to reduce conflicts and potential conflicts between firearms deer hunters and recreational OHV riders -- the latter defined, for this purpose, as OHV riders during most firearms deer seasons (the restriction won't apply during the October antlerless season or the muzzleloader season) who do not hold deer hunting licenses.

Let's break it down:

• First, if you purchased a firearms deer license last year and also have registered an OHV with the DNR, you will soon receive in the mail a brochure that clarifies and explains many regulations affecting you and use of your machine while big-game hunting.

• Details about Thursday's announcement restricting OHVs (meaning all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and off-road vehicles such as Jeeps) during firearms deer hunting seasons is not included in the brochure, however.

• In the northeastern Minnesota 100 series deer season, the recreational riding restriction will be in effect Nov. 8-23. In the 200 series deer season, the recreational riding restriction will be in effect Nov. 8-16. For season details, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/index.html.

• Thursday's restriction on recreational OHV riding during firearms deer seasons applies to state-owned land within state forests. This includes mapped and designated OHV trails (listed on www.findthetrails.com, which takes you to the DNR website) on these lands, as well as tote trails and any other trails on state lands within state forests. (Private, county and federal lands often also lie in state forests -- the restriction does not apply to these.)

• Nor does the restriction apply to "grant-in-aid'' trails that lie outside state forests. These trails are on land owned by counties, among other entities. The Soo Line Trail, for instance, which is one of the state's longest, running from Onamia to Moose Lake to Cass Lake, is grant-in-aid, and Thursday's restriction does not apply to it.

• DNR trails and waterways division policy and program manager Ron Potter estimates that about 40 percent of Minnesota's designated OHV trail miles lie outside of state forests and are not covered by Thursday's restriction. The DNR website will be updated with current closures before the firearms deer seasons.

• Thursday's restriction also does not apply to what officially are known as state forest roads or minimum-maintenance state forest roads. Potter said these roads should be designated by a number or name, but might not be. All mapped and designated OHV trails are marked by signs, however,

• In all, the state owns about 4.5 million acres of forest lands, almost all of it in the 100 and 200 series deer hunting zones. By comparison, the Superior National Forest encompasses 3.85 million acres, and Chippewa National Forest is 1.6 million acres.

• Meanwhile, if you are a deer hunter -- defined as someone who holds a license -- you can ride on these and other trails during deer season provided you do so before legal shooting hours, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and after legal shooting hours.

• The same restricted hours of OHV use by deer hunters apply to all public lands in the state. However, hunters who own OHVs can use them on private land any time they want, provided they own the land or have been given permission to ride there by the property owner.

• Thursday's OHV restriction during firearms deer seasons should be a win-win for everyone. Most recreational OHV riders don't want to be in the woods during deer season, and most deer hunters don't want them there.

• The same can't be said for a law passed by the Legislature last session removing a restriction requiring OHV riders to be 20 yards from their machines before shooting at ruffed grouse. Now they can pop these birds as soon as they dismount and uncase their guns.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, carried the bill in the House. The measure was never heard in the Senate, but won approval by a House-Senate conference committee.

What a shame that the state with the best grouse hunting in the nation, and that otherwise prides itself on a population of hunters who honor in most instances not only the spirit but the letter of fair chase, would kowtow to those for whom such a regal bird is so cheaply regarded.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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