Martino: The Problem with Deer Rifles

It’s the time of year when most conversations among outdoor enthusiasts should center on spring fishing. But this year those talks are about deer hunting, even though the season is still nearly half a year away. Why? Because there have been some significant changes, unlike our state has ever seen.

Several weeks back a new law was passed allowing Indiana hunters to use high-powered rifles. The new legislation is drawing big concerns about safety and how it could cut too deeply into our state’s deer herd.

Hunters will be allowed to use high-powered rifles when hunting on private property during the two week long regular firearms deer hunting season.

The new law, which passed as HB 1231, allows deer hunting on private land with rifles chambered in .243, 30-30, .30-06, .300 and .308. Hunters are restricted to carrying a maximum of 10 cartridges in the field and the use of full metal jacket ammo is prohibited.

Republican State Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth, authored the bill and stated publicly he isn’t concerned about safety or overly reducing our state’s deer herd. Last year the Department of Natural Resources considered the same change but ultimately decided against it after hearing heavy opposition from the public, including a large number of hunters.

“We aren’t increasing the season or the number of deer a hunter can take,” said Arnold. There are only five new calibers you can use and we already have muzzleloaders that can shoot over 300 to 400 yards. I can use every one of those guns 365 days a year for any other species besides deer. Why do we have that restriction? It doesn’t make sense,” he added.

Well, first off, he is referring to the use of high powered rifles some hunters use for hunting coyotes and groundhogs. The number of people who hunt these varmints are miniscule compared to an average 250,000 deer hunters who take to the woods during our regular firearms deer hunting season, so that’s not a fair comparison. Secondly, please show me a muzzleloader capable of accurately shooting out to 400 yards. And anyone who would take a 400 yard shot with black powder equipment eclipses the line of ethical hunting.

Personally I am on the fence in regards to safety. I think some of the safest in firearm use are hunters. What is most concerning isn’t so much the law but how it was adopted. The DNR posted an announcement which made clear their intentions. It read, “House Bill 1231 was passed by the Indiana General Assembly and signed by the Governor. It was initiated by a state legislator and not the DNR.” So what we have now are state legislatures micromanaging the DNR and wildlife management as well as hunting methods. I have always believed science, not politics, should govern our wildlife resources. Lawmakers seem to be overstepping their mandate by not allowing the DNR and their stewards to do what they are trained and educated to do. Therein lays the rub. Democratic processes and public hearings are put in place to keep the people’s wildlife managed for the common good.

To me, politicians are elected to represent the people who put them in office, not promote their own personal agendas. Over the past year I have heard literally hundreds of conversations and opinions in regards to the new law and to date, I have only heard a few who stand in support.

Out of 43 states with reportable whitetail deer harvests, Indiana is one of nine that that until this year, didn’t allow high powered rifles. Indiana joined Iowa, Ohio and Illinois in banning high powered rifles because of population density and flat topography. Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware ban them because of population. Even Michigan outlaws their use in the southern part of the state because of flat topography.

In addition to the use of high powered rifles, state politicians also angered many hunting and conservation groups making it legal to kill deer (notice I did not say hunt) in preserves enclosed by eight-foot fences, often called “canned hunting.” But this will be the topic of an upcoming column.

I believe former U.S House of Rep. member Lee Hamilton said it best. “We have a secrecy problem. The political system depends on our ability to know what’s being done in our name. Too much is being done behind closed doors.”