Rifles permitted for this year's gun-deer season
Warden Brad Peterson says he's been getting calls from Pierce County sportsmen daily, wanting to verify whether they can swap their shotguns for rifles this year.
It is true, said Peterson. During one of its sessions this past summer, the Wisconsin legislature approved a provision expanding use of rifles to all 72 Wisconsin counties after Nov. 1.
Although hunters have long been allowed to use high-powered rifles for coyote hunting and .22 rimfire rifles for small game, Peterson said it will represent a major change for the nine-day gun-deer season, and subsequent 10-day muzzle-loader season and four-day antlerless hunt.
"Ultimately, it all comes down to each hunter being aware of the four safety rules (especially), 'knowing your target and beyond,'" Peterson said.
Contrary to popular assumption, rifles aren't necessarily more dangerous than the slug-equipped shotguns area hunters have used in Pierce for more than 25 years, he said. The large shotgun slugs are more prone to ricochet than higher-velocity rifled bullets.
Peterson recalled an incident he investigated on Thanksgiving Day some years back where a ricocheted slug traveled 888 yards and penetrated exterior and interior walls of a house before lodging in a bathroom vanity. Someone had left the room only moments earlier, but no one was injured.
Generally, rifles are more accurate than shotguns and "one well-placed shot" may result in fewer shots fired and less wounded or lost game, Peterson said.
Rifle-use has been allowed in portions of St. Croix County for many years, said Warden Paul Sickman, who has also been receiving lots of calls from hunters and landowners seeking verification on the issue.
Many inquiries focus on whether the rifle rule applies to hunting in the "M" or Metro Unit 60, roughly bounded by Highway 29 south of River Falls, County Road F and Highway 35 in St. Croix County. Rifle use will be permitted in the Metro zones as well, Sickman said.
Peterson said the law change wasn't driven by the perception that rifles are more effective at killing deer, rather, to simplify regulations about what type of weapons are allowed where.
In nearby Pepin and Buffalo counties, for example, rifle use has long been allowed, but cross a road into Pierce County it became shotgun-only.
In St. Croix County, Sickman said rifles had been permitted north of Highway 64 and east of Highway 128 over to Highway 70. They've also been used for bear and coyote hunting for years.
Sickman couldn't recall any situations were ricocheting slugs had been an issue but did investigate an incident where a hunter lost a finger when his rifle discharged while the individual was holding his hand over the barrel.
Rifle-use could only be banned in a town if a local ordinance has been enacted by town officials. Neither Peterson nor Sickman are aware of any towns that have drafted or implemented such restrictions and Sickman speculated that "it's probably too late" to initiate for this season.
Further, Peterson said if such town ordinances did exist, he wouldn't be authorized to enforce them anyway since they'd not be state laws.
The issue surfaced at a recent board meeting in the Town of River Falls. The town's zoning administrator, Jerome Rodewald, spoke in support of the expansion of rules to allow rifle-use in areas previously restricted to shotgun-only.
He cited study results following a similar change in Dane, Green, Lafayette, Rock and Walworth counties during 2002-2007. There was no increase in shooting accidents.
Sickman encouraged hunters to abide by the "TAB-K" rules taught in all Hunter Education classes today: T = Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. A = Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. B = Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it. K = Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
Shooting ranges at several area gun clubs offer hours open to the public to sight-in rifles.
Hudson Rod, Gun & Archery Club (HudsonGunClub.com) is open to the public for sight-in from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., every Sunday through Nov. 17, as well as several Saturdays. Cost is $7 per gun. Check the online calendar for details.
The River Falls Sportsman's Club (RiverFallsSportsmansClub.com) is open daily from dawn to dusk for members. The club will be open to non-members from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays Nov. 2, 9, 16 and Friday Nov. 22. Cost is $5.
The Pierce County Public Shooting Range (co.pierce.wi.us/Parks/Shooting_Range.html) located north of Ellsworth offers public access from 10 a.m to 5 p.m., Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in October and November, up until gun season. Cost for daily access is $5.
No sight-in information was available for the Willow River Rod & Gun Club (WillowRiver.org)