Rifles allowed, state park properties open for deer hunting

New for the 2013 Wisconsin gun deer hunting season, rifles will be allowed statewide unless a local municipality has enacted a more restrictive ordinance, the state Department of Natural Resources reports.

Also, for the first time, most state park properties will be open to gun deer hunting. However, those park properties that were previously open to deer hunting by permit remain open by permit only.

So far, the town of Holland in southern Sheboygan County is the only municipality in the county to adopt a local ban on rifle hunting for deer.

Three years after the idea was first proposed in a citizen resolution during voting at Wisconsin Conservation Congress spring meetings, rifles will be allowed statewide for firearm deer hunting under a rules change approved by the Natural Resources Board.

This means that unless there is a local ordinance that restricts the use of rifles in the town, hunters will be able to use rifles of calibers legal for hunting deer statewide in 2013. Hunters can contact the local unit of government where they hunt to determine if there is a local ordinance restricting the use of rifles.

“The DNR has not identified any safety-related advantage to shotguns and there is no deer herd management purpose for the old regulation,” said conservation warden Todd Schaller, chief of recreational enforcement and education.

“The key to safe hunting is that the safety rules must be followed with all types of firearms.”

Previously rifles were prohibited in all or portions of 18 counties in southeastern and west central Wisconsin. During 2002-2007, rifles were authorized within former shotgun-only portions of Dane, Green, Lafayette, Rock and Walworth counties contained in the Chronic Wasting Disease Eradication Zones with no increase in shooting incidents.

Schaller said the new regulations will be a simplification.

“Under previous rules, the department was frequently asked if people could use high-powered rifles for other species outside of the firearm deer season, if they could use muzzleloaders, or if they could use high-powered rifle and other cartridges in handguns during the firearm deer season,” Schaller said. “The answer to all of those was ‘yes,’ even in shotgunonly areas which sheds some light on the fact that the old rule was really not needed for safety related purposes.”

Most, but not all, state park properties will be open to gun deer hunting this fall under a new law intended to expand outdoor recreation opportunities and make it easier for people to participate in hunting, trapping and fishing. The Legislature approved the Sporting Heritage Bill, Wisconsin Act 168, in 2012, which among other things expanded park hunting opportunities and opened park properties to trapping for the first time.

Under its authority under Act 168 to restrict hunting in parks for safety reasons, the state Natural Resources Board limited hunting in the spring from April 1 through the Tuesday nearest May 3. In the fall, gun and archery hunting and trapping are allowed in the open areas of the property from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, except that archery hunting is allowed through the Sunday nearest Jan. 6.

Hunting is only allowed within the parks in areas designated as open. Closed areas include within 100 feet of designated use areas, such as parking lots, campgrounds and picnic areas, as well as within 100 feet of certain trails. Additional areas within parks may be closed due to safety concerns. Also, some state parks have property that is within municipal boundaries where the discharge of firearms is prohibited.

“It is each hunter’s responsibility to know what areas within a park are open to hunting and which areas are closed,” said Scott Loomans, DNR wildlife regulations specialist.

Maps indicating closed and open areas are available on the DNR website and at park offices. They will be posted at parking areas and other locations within parks.

Hunters can search the DNR website for “hunting state parks” to find which parks are open to hunting and to see maps of open and closed hunting areas within state parks.

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