Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

Points North: Is Dumbing Down the Rules Good for Hunting?

By Shawn Perich

If you don’t have a dog in the fight, it is hard to keep track of the never-ending attempts to water down hunting and fishing rules, which usually occurs when the Legislature is in session. For instance, I wasn’t even aware that deer hunters are allowed to use crossbows during the firearm deer season and that disabled hunters may get a permit to use them during the archery season. And now, beginning this fall, hunters over age 60 may take deer, bear, turkey, or rough fish by crossbow during the respective regular archery seasons.

The latter rule is supposedly intended as a move to retain older hunters, who presumably lack the upper body strength to draw a modern compound bow. Crossbow critics say the move is less about older hunters than getting a foot in the door for the eventual legalization of crossbows for everyone in all archery seasons, a coup for the developing crossbow industry.

The critics worry that if crossbow hunting is legalized for all, the state’s archers may ultimately suffer from a domino effect. Because crossbows are easier to use than a bow-and-arrow, critics are concerned significant numbers of hunters could begin using them to take advantage Minnesota’s 3 ½-month archery season. If that occurs, the new crossbow hunters may be more successful at killing deer than archers, thus driving up the annual harvest. A higher archery kill may lead wildlife officials to consider new restrictions on archery hunters—such as a shorter season.

Of course, all of this could be avoided if state politicians just left well enough alone. If deer hunters choose to use crossbows, they can already do so during the firearm deer season. That seems an appropriate place for a hunting method that is easier than archery. The same may be said about a similar, controversial topic—placing scopes on muzzle-loading rifles. If you want to make a primitive weapon less primitive, why don’t you just join the rest of the unwashed masses in the regular gun season?

Advocates of modifying existing rules to make hunting easier always have plenty of arguments to support their cause. First and foremost is unless we bend the rules, we’ll lose hunters—kids, seniors, weekend warriors—who are unwilling to spend time in the field unless we dumb down the experience for them. To paraphrase this argument (perhaps cynically), hunting ought to be the outdoor equivalent of shopping at Walmart, where you pick what you want off a shelf and go on your way. After all, no one in our busy society has time to learn how to shoot, how to scout for game or how to wait patiently for a game animal to appear.

Another argument is that we should allow something in Minnesota, because it’s already allowed in other states. While this makes plenty of sense if you are marketing a new product (which is often the real motive for bending the rules), just because they hunt hogs with knives in some other state doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a good idea here. (And, yes, I understand we have no wild hogs in this state.) As an example, hunters in Wisconsin and Michigan can use hounds to hunt bears. A proposal to do so here would likely be opposed by everyone from existing bear hunters to rural property owners.

While politicians occasionally bend hunting or fishing rules to satisfy a personal whim, more often they are responding to requests from advocates. Sometimes changes, such as the application of antler point restrictions in southeastern Minnesota, are years in the making, going through a process of public meetings, DNR studies and more. Whether you agree with the outcome, such a process allows some room for debate.

Outside the legislative area, rules may be changed by wildlife officials. In Minnesota, this seems to happen most in the realm of waterfowl management. In short, what goes on in Minnesota’s marshes during September and October ain’t your Granddaddy’s duck slough. The shooting seems to start a little sooner each fall with early goose hunts, youth hunts and a general season that now begins before the ducks born and raised in our marshes are fully capable of flight. In spite of nearly unanimous opposition from duck hunters, waterfowl managers almost seem reluctant to not add a new September teal season to the mix.

The latter is especially disheartening when you consider said waterfowl managers know that Minnesota-raised ducks of other species—not fair game during the teal season and difficult to identify in their drab, summer plumage—will be mistakenly shot by teal hunters. There has even been talk of allowing a “mistake duck” in the daily bag. Ah well, one hunter’s mistake is another hunter’s bonus bird.

There are good reasons to update rules to adapt to changing times. However, it is fair to assume that often most hunters are satisfied with the existing rules. For instance, there was no hunter-inspired groundswell to move the start of the duck season to an earlier date. The same is true for allowing hunters over 60 to hunt with crossbows during the archery season. If we don’t have a dog in the fight, we are often unaware such changes occur.

I wonder if the dumbing down of longstanding rules will be good for hunting in the long run. Sorry, but I’m uncomfortable with the rule allowing someone inexperienced with guns to get an “apprentice hunter validation” so they can go hunting without first taking firearm safety. I’ve yet to see any data showing how youth hunts have led to any more kids to become lifelong hunters. And I don’t expect to ever see any data about how allowing seniors to use crossbows has kept more old hunters from fading away.

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