Mitchell debates DNR rule on rifles, takes no action

by Rodney Schroeter Special to The Review

A public hearing was held prior to the monthly Town of Mitchell Board of Supervisors meeting on Mon., Oct. 14.

Under discussion was a change in the law from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), allowing rifles to be used statewide in deer hunting as of Nov. 1, 2013.

Local municipalities have the option of passing an ordinance prohibiting rifles for deer hunting. However, though most supervisors and audience members speaking at the Mitchell meeting did not consider the change to be a good thing, no action was taken to enact an ordinance opposing it.

Supervisor Jackie Veldman said the town’s attorney had reviewed the town’s possible ordinance, then consulted with three attorneys from the Towns Association. “None of them would advise adopting the ordinance,” Veldman said, as they did not think it could withstand a legal challenge.

Veldman was told that factual data must support a claim that rifles are more dangerous than shotguns for hunting, to legally defend an ordinance banning rifle hunting. Those statistics are lacking, she was told.

Veldman also learned that the responsibility (and cost) of enforcing an ordinance banning rifle hunting would be the town’s.

Resident Lou Jaeger asked why the DNR was making this change.

Veldman replied that the DNR has been opening deer hunting to rifles in various parts of the state. Rifles are also allowed for small-game hunting.

“I talked to several hunters, and they don’t feel comfortable using a rifle in this area,” Veldman added. “Because you need to know your target, and beyond. And a rifle bullet can travel three to four miles.”

Supervisor Dennis Born said this change was not supposed to take effect until 2014. “Three people at the DNR rammed this through, without legislative approval,” he said. “I guess you have to bring that up with the governor, and with your legislators, and ask why the DNR has the power they have.”

Chairperson Bill Puetz agreed that there should have been more time for public discussion.

Rifle bullets, Born said, travel much farther and have a lot more power. “The ballistic proof is there,” he said. “A rifle bullet is going to travel farther, faster, and hit harder for a longer distance than a shotgun. No doubt about it.”

This concern was shared by Jenny Dewitz, an audience member who resides in Lyndon. Most hunters she’d talked with were against rifle use, for safety reasons. Veldman agreed, saying most hunters she knew were surprised that the change to the law went through.

“I’m against it,” Dewitz said, adding that she would only hunt with a shotgun, and only on private land this year, as opposed to public land. About half the hunting lands in Mitchell are government-owned.

The combination of Mitchell’s population density and the chance that a bullet could go astray as a result of “buck fever” concerned Dewitz.

“I see it as a huge safety problem,” she said.

Kris Hughes, town of Lyndon chairperson, was in the audience. She was asked if Lyndon took a stand on this issue. She replied that after consulting with the town’s attorney, and with Capt. Cory Roesler of the Sheboygan County Sheriff's Department, Lyndon’s Town Board decided to take no action.

It was emphasized that landowners can prohibit using rifles, or hunting altogether, on their own land.

Resident Randy Walter had no problem with rifle hunting. “I’m more comfortable with [the rifle] than I am, actually, with shotgun.”

When Dewitz and others questioned him, Walter elaborated that a rifle bullet is smaller than a shotgun slug, so chances of being hit accidentally are less for the rifle bullet. A rifle typically has a scope, he said, in which a hunter’s orange jacket is more clearly visible.

To Dewitz’s concern about stray bullets, Walter replied, “I can appreciate that. But my father-in-law has slug holes in his building. So where are you going to draw the line? How are you going to define that?” He added, “There are rifles out there with less grunt than a shotgun has. I’m not going to lie to you. I like the rifle.”

Dewitz told Walter, “I think the people who are trained, like yourself, like my husband, I’m not worried about those people. My concern is that there are too many people out there not proficient enough with the rifle.”

Walter asked where the line should be drawn, as he’s known people going to the hospital because of birdshot wounds.

The conversation continued in a civil manner, until the public hearing was closed.

When the rifle ordinance came up at the regular board meeting, the board unanimously approved tabling the issue for further discussion.


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