Rifle hunting bill ‘struggling’ in House, Swedzinski says

Two bills in the Minnesota Legislature are seeking to make it possible to hunt deer with a rifle instead of a shotgun in southern Minnesota. But at this point, it’s not sure if the proposal will make headway in the Minnesota House of Representatives, said Rep. Chris Swedzinski.

“We’re still struggling in the House to get it across the line,” Swedzinski said this week.

Swedzinski, R-Ghent, co-authored a bill that would allow deer hunting with rifles statewide. Currently, deer hunters in Minnesota can use rifles in an area north of a line that runs from Moorhead to Taylors Falls. In the southern portion of the state, deer hunting is limited to shotguns using slugs, muzzleloaders and legal handguns. Those restrictions have been in place since the 1940s.

“Historically, it was more for just managing numbers of deer,” Swedzinski said of the restriction. Eliminating the shotgun zone for deer hunting would allow hunters to choose what kind of legal firearms to use, he said.

Swedzinski said the House bill eliminating the shotgun zone had support from groups like the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, but was having a hard time getting support in the House. He said a similar bill in the Senate has had a better reception. The Senate bill proposed to eliminate the shotgun-only restrictions except in a few Minnesota counties, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in April.

Marshall area hunters had a mix of opinions on the prospect of allowing rifle hunting across Minnesota. Some said they would support the move, while others said it could be more dangerous to use rifles in open areas.

“I would support it,” Marshall resident and hunter Nicholas Schultz said of allowing rifle hunting statewide.

“I think there’s a lot of people that would rather shoot rifle than slug,” said area hunter Cal Brink. Allowing rifles in southern Minnesota might convince some hunters to stay local instead of heading north, he said.

Schultz said using a rifle changes the range at which a deer hunter can shoot. “Shotguns have a very small range you can shoot at,” he said. With a rifle, that range can get up to 200 or 250 yards, he said.

Brink said rifles have also been shown to be more accurate, and more likely to kill deer instead of injuring them.

Wayne Radloff, another area hunter, said he thought allowing rifle hunting in southern Minnesota would be more dangerous.

“If you miss a shot, that shell could go a long, long way,” Radloff said. That’s less of a danger in the forests of northern Minnesota, he said. “If you miss and you’re in the woods, chances are the shot’s going to go in a tree somewhere.”

Schultz said there could be some potential safety concerns for rifle hunting in southwest Minnesota. For example, if there were a lot of people hunting on a piece of public land, “It would be a lot more nerve-wracking” to hunt with a rifle, he said.

Hunters need to be careful about what is in front of them, including when they use rifles, he said.

“It’s a complex issue,” said area hunter Brian Knochenmus. Hunting rules in Minnesota have changed over time, he said.

Knochenmus said he didn’t know if he was as concerned about the type of weapons used for hunting, as he was about the amount of hunting pressure on deer populations in Minnesota.

Hunters would need to continue to focus on safety, Knochenmus said.

“There are always safety concerns in open areas,” Knochenmus said. At the same time, some of the pistols that are legal for deer hunting in Minnesota shoot like rifles, he said.

Brink and Swedzinski also said that AR pistols can already be used for deer hunting in Minnesota.

Data from one of Minnesota’s neighboring states didn’t show an increase in hunting incidents after legalizing rifles for hunting. In 2013, Wisconsin made it legal to hunt with rifles statewide. A 2022 report by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources showed that the total number of hunting incidents in Wisconsin has continued to go down since 2013. There were 12 hunting incidents, including one fatality, in Wisconsin during the 2022 hunting season.


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