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Learn the Facts

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

The 2023 legislative session in Minnesota is underway. They have many items on their plate this session, and the one that will get the most attention is what to do with the many billion-dollar surplus the state has from the Recovering America Act that sent billions to the states. Unfortunately, this multi-billion dollars of federal money was borrowed and was added to the national debt of over 34 trillion.
Another item on the list, although a state issue of much less significance, is a bill HF864 in the Minnesota House. This bill has been floated for the past several years and has died on the vine.  It was reintroduced by Josh Heitzman R-Nisswa.  The bill, which has many followers – both for and against – in the hunting world, relates to the elimination of the shotgun zone for deer hunting statewide.
I believe it was back in the ’70s that most of the farmland zone in the southwest part of the state was converted to a shotgun zone. This was done to reduce deer harvest when populations were very low and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was trying to increase those said populations.  It was not done at that time as a safety measure. This I know for sure.
Today those deer populations are back to where the powers to be think they should be. The elimination of the shotgun zone is an effort to simplify and streamline hunting regulations. We all know there is no thicker regulation book than the one Minnesota uses. Regulations change all the time, and most of those changes are a result of legislative action and not DNR action.
When it comes to the elimination of the shotgun zone, the DNR’s current position is neutral. The assistant commissioner stated the department will wait until the final language is released, and when they have time to look it over, they will weigh in.
This potential change has lots of folks up in arms. My official position is also neutral, but there are several facts that you need to know before you set your mind in one direction or the other.
First off is that many people think that a rifle zone in the farmland zone will result in a much higher incident of death or injury, as a rifle bullet can travel much farther than a shotgun slug. A rifle bullet can fly farther than a shotgun slug if it is launched over the horizon.
There are studies from two different states that have eliminated their shotgun zones over the past 10 years, and the official results of those studies were that the increase or decrease in hunting injuries or fatalities were significantly insignificant. There was no measurable difference between a shotgun hunting season and a rifle hunting season. Do a little google search and you will find the same results as I did.
Others think a rifle zone will put even more pressure on the bucks in any given area. The wildlife managers respond that deer populations are controlled by the number of doe permits issued in any specific area, and population can be successfully managed with doe permit changes in areas where this is necessary.
Rifles are legal to use in coyote hunting in shotgun zones that exists today, and the number of deaths or injuries due to rifle coyote hunting do not make it unto anybody’s radar. So from a safety perspective the alarm many folks feel as a result of allowing rifles does not pan out in the numbers in any way. I certainly understand the concerns for safety, but I am also a fact and figures guy.
There is a certain segment of the deer hunting population that think poaching will increase 300 fold because you can now kill a deer at much longer ranges. Poaching is an enforcement issue. It can be said that the unethical hunters that want to do some poaching are already using a high-powered rifle to do it. That is hard to argue with.
I will repeat my position on this issue. I am neutral. I have a great rifled slug-gun that I will continue to use if this legislation passes.  Many other hunters have told me the same thing. If this issue passes, the legislation includes the ability for any county to opt out if they choose. This county-by-county opt-out might be the right strategy.
One last point on the safety issue. Northwest Minnesota is a rifle zone, and they have tons of agriculture in that part of the state. There is no greater level of accidents or injuries in that ag part of the state than in the shotgun zone in southwest Minnesota.
Please make your own decision on this matter and then weigh in with your proper representative. But do so supported by the facts or on Twitter @habitat champion.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at

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