By Howard Meyerson
Legislation that would permit hunters to use certain rifles and ammunition in the state’s shotgun-only zone is on the move once again in the state Capitol. House Bill 4283, introduced last February by Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, was voted out of the Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism in November.
The bill adds .35 caliber or larger rifles to the list of already allowable firearms in the shotgun zone – pistols, shotguns and muzzleloaders. Hunters using rifles would be limited to only ammunition that is now allowed for pistols: straight-walled cartridges with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum length of 1.8 inches.
“This was brought to use by one of our constituents,” said Susan Martin, Rep. Lori’s chief of staff. “It’s for those who find a shotgun kick is too hard to take. Using rifles with this ammunition is much easier and the bullet doesn’t travel any further than a pistol shot would.”
Michigan’s shotgun zone encompasses all counties in the lower third of the state including the Thumb region. It covers the most densely populated areas of Michigan. Law enforcement officials say the designation was established due to safety concerns. Shotguns have shorter killing range than high-powered rifles.
If the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, the existing shotgun zone would be renamed as the “limited firearms area.”
State conservation officers have expressed concerns about the bill. The Michigan DNR has opposed it. Dean Molnar, the DNR’s assistant chief of law enforcement said there are two reasons why: One is a matter of public perception; the other a matter of enforcement difficulty.
“The reason we have a shotgun zone is a safety concern,” Molnar said. “A lot of folks won’t understand that hunters are using a particular caliber and projectile. They will just see a rifle and think extended range. We are concerned that it may prompt people to get together and seek more hunting area closures.
“And because we will get more complaints about people using rifles, we will have to respond to it. Right now a conservation officer can stand in a road and use a pair of binoculars to check out what a hunter is using. But if this passes and we see a rifle, the officer will have to go and check it out to assure it is the proper rifle and proper ammunition. It is going to be more intrusive and take more of an officer’s time.”
Martin said the DNR “is being a little overly cautious” about the bill. Indiana has already done this, she said, and ammunition sales climbed. It was good for the economy.
Amy Trotter, the resource policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs said her organization supports the bill. It would allow some gun collectors with older rifles to use them for hunting rather than just target shooting and it would provide a lower recoil option for those who don’t like the kick from a shotgun.
“It makes sense to us,” Trotter said. “Those cartridges are already being used in pistols. And we don’t agree with the DNR’s assessment and fears about expanding opposition to hunting.
“In terms of being more difficult to enforce, it’s hard to enforce steel-shot rules in waterfowling too. But we feel they have the tools and this doesn’t represent any more challenge than we have already.”
Martin said she expects the bill will likely sit now until next year. It has not been taken up by the full Senate as of this writing. The end of the year is fast approaching and the legislature is busy with higher-priority legislation.
“The pressure was on to move it during the hunting season,” Martin said. “But now I think we can relax a little on this and pick it up next year.”
This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News
© 2013 Howard Meyerson