BY ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Allowing deer hunters to use rifles in southern Michigan is under consideration, but it won’t be in time for this year’s Nov. 15-30 firearm season.
Currently, it’s illegal to hunt deer with a rifle in an area south of a line running from the Muskegon-Oceana-counties border east to Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.
The area is referred to as the “shotgun zone.”
“The lawful firearms that can be used are shotguns, handguns, and black powder firearms,” says Dan Eichinger, legislative liaison for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The no-rifle rule applies only to deer season.
Small game can be hunted during other seasons with rifles but not during firearm deer season.
The restriction was intended to protect people in the higher-population part of the state during the busiest hunting seasons, Eichinger said.
Some legislators, however, want to expand the types of firearms allowed in the shotgun zone.
Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, introduced a bill to allow .35 caliber and larger rifles in the zone if they are loaded with straight-walled cartridges with a case length of 1.16-to-1.8 inches.
Lori said expanding the types of firearms in the shotgun zone would attract deer hunters who wouldn’t normally hunt there.
“We’re trying to change the configuration of the cartridges so that the kick of the weapon is reduced, which would allow more women and kids the chance to hunt,” he said. “We don’t want people to be afraid of the kick of the weapon.”
Amy Spray, resource policy specialist for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said MUCC hasn’t decided if it will support the change.
“My only concern is whether or not our legislators have done their homework and have made sure there are no safety hazards with this legislation,” she said.
Lori, whose firearm experience comes from 30 years in law enforcement, including serving as St. Joseph County sheriff, said the bill wouldn’t create new safety hazards.
“They should shoot the same distance as a shotgun, so I don’t think there would be any increase in safety hazards,” he said.
“The biggest thing is that we want to encourage more people to be able to hunt,” he added.
The DNR also hasn’t decided if it will support the legislation.
“We’re still working on our analysis of the legislation, and have yet to take a position,” Eichinger said. “I’m sure if there are any safety concerns our law enforcement division will let the Legislature know.”
If no safety risks are found, MUCC is expected to support the bill.
“If it’s something that increases hunting opportunities in the state without any safety hazards, then that’s all for the better,” said Dave Nyberg, government and public relations manager for MUCC.
Co-sponsors include Reps. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard; Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township; Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt; and Kevin Daley, R-Lum, and is pending in the House Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.