When I was a kid, my dad used to hunt deer in western South Dakota with a .270 Remington 700 rifle with a 4 power Redfield scope.
I thought it was the coolest firearm on earth. When we moved to Minnesota in 1974, he gave up deer hunting. He explained to me that when compared to South Dakota, Minnesota was the land of 10,000 rules and he was not interested in going back to school to learn them.
When I started hunting deer in southwest Minnesota, we were limited to hunting with a shotgun. Most hunters in that day used a gun designed to shoot birds, and if you were really lucky you could afford a rifled slug barrel which had a good set of iron sites on it.
Times have changed greatly since then, and shotguns for deer hunting are super accurate and have a range that will easily kill a deer out to about 150 yards. Some will shoot at longer ranges, but 100 yards is most hunters’ sweet spot.
I was always of the incorrect understanding that we were limited to shooting a shotgun because we are in flatland farm county, and it was purely a safety concern. Southwest Minnesota does not have a forest of trees to stop the bullet if we miss our target.
On the other hand, a bullet fired from a rifle in the flatlands can actually travel 3-5 miles before gravity brings it back to touchdown. It seemed common sense that a shotgun was a safer bet in my area.
My research indicated I was totally wrong. What brought this up was a movement in the Minnesota Legislature to eliminate the shotgun zones for deer hunting across the state. This would allow all deer hunters to use either a shotgun or a rifle to take deer.
Sen. Jeff Howe (R) of Rockville and Rep Chris Swedzinski (R) of Ghent are the authors of the bill this year.
I really have no position on the issue.
One thing that is happening now is that many rifle calibers are available in a pistol format. This makes them into pistol rifles for all practical purposes. If these calibers are being used in the shotgun zones now, and they are getting much more popular, one can ask, what difference does the rule change really make? I am unaware of any increase in hunting accidents since these big pistols were made legal. Rifles are more accurate than pistols. This is a given fact considering their barrel length. If we are shooting pistols in rifle calibers, does adding more accurate rifles to the mix seem like no big deal?
I am getting totally mixed reviews, and passions run really high on both sides of the issue. From a resource perspective, some think that allowing rifles in the shotgun zones will increase deer kill and put even more pressure on immature bucks resulting in less deer available to the average Joe or Josephine hunter.
Others think the safety issues are a really big deal and that the change will make an impact on the number of persons injured or killed by stray bullets. After a few phone calls I learned that the Minnesota DNR is not taking a position to support or oppose this possible new regulation change.
One important fact: The real reason for the limitations on rifles in southwest Minnesota, in the first place, was to limit deer harvest. Deer were scarce in Nobles County 60 years ago. Shotgun requirements made distant shots impossible.
Now their populations are stable and harvest is controlled by tag management, ie: doe tags, surplus tags etc., not by firearm choice. It will be interesting how this plays out.
Some important stats: There is no safety data to support keeping the shotgun zones. Irresponsible hunters will do so regardless of firearm choice, and different zones confuse hunters -- especially new hunters. And having one set of rules statewide makes hunter education easier. The Minnesota DNR thinks this is mostly a social issue and, hence, is not taking a position.
I just bought a new top end Savage 20-gauge bolt action slug gun for me and the kids I mentor. If rifle use is allowed, I will still use a shotgun, and I think many other hunters will do so as well.