Minnesota would do away with shotgun-only zones for deer hunting if the Legislature this year takes up a bill that recognizes changes in firearms technology and usage.
Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, who chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee, said she is not ready to endorse the bill but is willing to consider it. She’s welcoming input from deer hunters from across the state.
“That’s a really important piece of the puzzle,’’ said Ruud. She also plans to discuss the proposal with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, is chief author of the shotgun bill. He said support for the initiative will be coming soon from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the largest hunting group in the state.
He introduced his bill in 2019, he said, because shotgun-only zones for deer hunting don’t make sense anymore. His bill is worded simply: “During the regular firearms deer season, all legal firearms may be used statewide.
For one thing, Howe said, it’s legal for coyote hunters to use rifles all over the state. “What difference does it make what animal I’m hunting?’’
Secondly, shotgun-only zones were created years ago as a herd-control measure in areas where deer were scarce. It was thought that hunters would kill fewer deer with shotguns because slugs had notably less range than bullets fired from a rifle.
But Howe and others say shotguns have evolved to be lethal at much longer distances. Certain bolt-action, 20-gauge shotguns now sold at sporting goods stores are reliable at distances of 200 yards — more than double what they used to be. The strides in ballistic performance challenge the notion that slug guns are not as effective during the deer harvest.
“Why make people buy different firearms to hunt in different areas of the state?’’ Howe said.
Wildlife managers and enforcement leaders at the DNR are not leading the push to eliminate shotgun-only deer hunting zones. But a change would fit with the agency’s overall push to simplify hunting and fishing regulations.
For one thing, Howe said, rewriting the regulation would eliminate confusion over the use of high-powered, long-distance pistols for deer hunting. Those firearms shoot like rifles and currently are legal for deer hunting all over the state. However, if the handguns are used with an arm-attachment that makes them more rifle-like, they are not legal for deer hunting in shotgun-only zones.
“Deer hunters are going to be on board with this and the DNR is fine with it,’’ Howe said.
But Howe and Ruud both said the proposal could be held back out of concern that it might draw unfriendly amendments. If so, the hunting regulation proposal could be transformed into controversial gun legislation.
“It’s a gun bill, so at the end of the day you have to ask how vulnerable it is to amendments,’’ Ruud said.