It has been illegal for Minnesota hunters and shooters to transport loaded or uncased firearms in a vehicle for more than 80 years.
The Department of Natural Resources says it should stay that way. But Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, says the law is unneeded and it's time to change it.
Dill is author of a bill that would allow people to transport uncased and unloaded rifles, shotguns and bows in their vehicles. The bill -- which was approved last week by the House Game, Fish and Forestry Division Committee, chaired by Dill -- was amended to require that the guns be unloaded. Another amendment clarifies that handguns still would have to be transported cased, unless the owner has a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Under current law, the only time rifles and shotguns can be transported uncased is in the closed trunk of a motor vehicle.
Dill and co-author Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, say the current law is a hassle for hunters and target shooters, who have to unload and case their guns when moving from field to field at a shooting range or while hunting. They say the change also would be safer for hunters and reduce conflicts with conservation officers, who currently can cite someone for not fully fastening their gun cases.
The DNR says in a report to the Legislature that changing the law would increase the likelihood of firearms accidents and likely increase shooting from roadways and poaching. It also could prompt local governments to enact their own laws requiring guns to be cased, creating a confusing hodgepodge of laws. And it could threaten the safety of conservation officers, said Mike Hammer, DNR enforcement division education coordinator.
Dill disagrees. "It's just a common-sense bill," he said. "I think there's a strong chance it will pass."
Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, is among the supporters. The current law makes it difficult for hunters to kill waterfowl they cripple, he said.
"As the law is now, you have to unload the gun, case it, get in the boat, cruise out on the water, make sure the boat is stopped, uncase your gun, load it and dispatch the bird," he said. "It takes a lot of time. A lot of birds don't get recovered because of that."
Conservation officer leaders in North Dakota and South Dakota, where uncased firearms are allowed, sent letters to the bill's authors stating they don't believe the policies put officers at risk. The Minnesota Conservation Officers Association hasn't taken a position for or against the legislation.
But DNR officials remain convinced the current law works just fine as is. "They're trying to fix something that is not broken," Hammer said.
The bill, HF128, doesn't have a companion bill in the Senate yet.
The Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council will receive more suggestions Monday on how to spend the $78 million of expected revenue over the next year from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters last fall.
The council already received proposals for $69 million in wetland projects and projects costing about $30 million for prairie habitat. On Monday, the 12-member council will hear proposals for the state's forests, and for fish and wildlife habitat.
The biggest proposal is to buy perpetual conservation easements on an astounding 188,000 acres -- about 300 square miles -- of former Blandin Paper Company forest, mostly in Itasca County. The easements would guarantee public access forever and would prevent development or subdivision of the lands. The Finnish owners, UPM-Kymmene, would retain ownership and continue to manage and harvest the timber. The cost is estimated at $51 million, including $9 million from private sources.
"It's some of the best forest land in the state, and it currently is open to public hunting, but if it's sold it could be completely closed off," said Tom Landwehr of the Nature Conservancy.
It is the largest of 15 projects totaling about $60 million to acquire, protect, restore or enhance forest lands.
The council also will hear a proposal for 16 programs, primarily for fish and aquatic habitat, costing $43 million. The largest -- $12.9 million -- is from the DNR to acquire shoreline for fishing access and habitat under the agency's Aquatic Management Area program.
Add it up and the total proposals to the council will exceed $200 million. Council members must whittle that to less than $78 million in recommendations to the Legislature by April 1.
A spearer to the rescue
Jason Trout — an avid fish decoy carver, fish spearer and angler — is a volunteer firefighter in Pine River, Minn., and that training came in handy recently. He and friend Mark Rinas of Northfield were fishing on the Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana when they heard a noise, then a cry for help. Another angler driving a four-wheeler crashed through thin ice.
Trout, 30, grabbed his spear — ''It was the only thing I could think of that had a rope on it,” he said — and sped with Rinas on four-wheelers to the scene.
“I unraveled the rope off the spear and belly-crawled up to the edge of the ice, which was around 2 inches thick,” Trout recalled. The fellow was clinging to his four-wheeler, and Trout told him to swim closer.
“He began gasping for air and spitting some water; it was only seconds later he started to go under the water,” Trout recalled. “I had to reach down into the water and got a hold of his hand and pulled him to the edge of the ice.’’
More help arrived, Trout slipped a larger rope around the victim and the men pulled him out.
“I wonder what that guy was thinking when I came running towards him with my spear,” Trout said.
Did you know?
• DNR Conservation officer Doug Lage and the Lake Benton Police Department recently escorted a young deer out of town — twice — after it became a nuisance at the local school playground.
• Crappie and sunfish success was good near Hill City and anglers were catching fish in the afternoon on Upper Red Lake.
• Anglers have been catching some kamloops and cohos casting from shore on Lake Superior.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org