I have been getting a lot of flak over my recent article on Indiana moving to centerfire rifle for deer in 2015. Fewer, but still a few, folks have been complaining to me about Ohio’s move to Pistol Caliber Rifles (PCR). I would like to set the record straight.
1) If you really have a problem with either decision, I am not the one to be telling. Write your state representative. The truth is, Indiana and Ohio are on there way to the same point, allowing all centerfire rifles in their modern weapons seasons. It has been in the works for as long as I have been hunting deer (early 1980’s) The outcome was not in question. It was just a matter of timing.
2) There never was a good reason for shotgun-only proscriptions. It was a knee-jerk reaction to problems encountered at the dawn of the new modern seasons. The real cure was mandatory Hunter Orange and Hunter Education. Now that we’ve had a generation of hunters properly educated in gun safety, we can take the training wheels off and allow big-boy rifles.
3) After two generations’ worth of data, there is simply no difference between shotgun-only and anything-goes states. A couple of hunters get shot every year, but it is still close-range mistaken-for-game incidents. Almost no one ever dies in Kentucky, Indiana, or Ohio because a bullet carried too far– shotgun or rifle. The standard model for a deer hunting accident is Fred hears a noise, throws his gun up and shoot his buddy, Dave at 25 yards. Dave was not wearing Orange. It matters not what Fred had in his hands, Dave is dead.+
So why is it that shotgun-only rules ever got on the books in the first place? Back at a time when all you had was “Punkin’ Ball” loads for shotguns, and the effective range on them were 50 yards or less, it might have made sense. In my recollection, it was New York that thought up the bright idea. The problem was that, when modern deer seasons were first instituted, there was appalling carnage. However, you have a bunch of things coming together:
a) Deer hunting had been banned for two generations prior, so nobody who could get in the woods really knew how to hunt deer effectively, let alone safely.
b) Populations had grown. Hunter densities had grown. Things that might have been safe 100 years ago when the woods were empty were now a big problem.
Something needed to be done, and so they put a limit on what you could use to shoot a deer– simple, handy, easy to enforce. It brought down the numbers of dead hunters a little. Everyone called it a success.
The real underlying problems were harder to solve. The real solutions are two-fold. First off, mandatory Hunter Orange. I will not go into that topic here, but you can read my thoughts on it:
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The other was Hunter Education. Like Hunter Orange, I did my best to skirt it. I was grandfathered, so I did not have to take it. I finally did attend when I took it with Mooseboy and I liked it so much I went back and took it with Angus. I learned something every time I went. If you go to Hunter Ed, and take what they say to heart, you stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution– regardless of the firearm you use. The bottom line is that safe gun handling cures the problem, and improper gun handling is deadly, no matter what you are carrying.
But are shotguns inherently safer? Check out this article:
The nut here is a bit counter-intuitive. However, the thing most people miss is that whether you’re talking about a shotgun or rifle, the bullet is going to probably bounce off something before it hits an unintentional target. Rifle bullets generally fragment. Shotgun slugs will bounce. With that realization, two generations of wrong-headed thinking goes out the window.
So what is left? I have heard all sorts of theories put forward defending shotguns. I can sort of see the idea of tradition. That is until, the next breath, when the same shotgun defender says he can hit a deer at 200 yards with his shotgun. Then I have to wince. We have come a long way from Punkin’ Balls. The wildest theory is that Ohio and Indiana and Iowa are all big buck destinations, and they all have had proscriptions on centerfire rifle. The idea is that shotgun-only rules somehow promote larger bucks. Then you have to look at Kentucky, that has been voted the top trophy buck destination in the country. You can lob anything you want at the deer in Kentucky– 25 ACP, 45 Auto, 223 REM. Considering that Zone 1 in KY has an unlimited bag limit on antlerless deer right now, I don’t think liberal firearm restrictions are hurting things.
Look guys, I made my choices 15 years ago, when I bought property in Kentucky. I am a life-long resident of Ohio, but I could not stand the shotgun-only proscription, and the Sunday hunting proscription. Indiana was similarly goofy at that point. I was always happy to pay the out of state fees to hunt Kentucky. I do not regret the choice, even though Indiana and Ohio have slowly dragged themselves to where Kentucky was 30 years ago. I doubt I will be coming back.
To those of you who still think centerfire rifle is a bad thing, try thinking of it in these terms. A 50 cal muzzle loader or a 12 GA shotgun take a lot of time and money to work into a 200 yard weapon. I can buy a bolt-action 30-06 and have that capability in one afternoon of practice. Furthermore, a 12 GA shooting a full-house deer load can have about the same recoil as a .416 Rigby elephant gun. I can give a 30-30 or a 44 Mag rifle to a nine-year-old, and he can shoot it comfortably. The ammunition? I reload a dozen different rifle chamberings. In fact I have not shot a factory round out of my deer rifles in 15 years. How many of you are doing that with your shotguns? The cost? I load 20 rounds of 30-06 for less than what you pay for a box of 12 GA Remmie Sluggers .
One last thing, and this is for the guys who stuff it in front-ways. I get it. I get how you like muzzleloading. I have a .54 Hawken caplock and I get a gas shooting it. The thing is, this is not about just you. There are plenty of deer in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. The herd is growing. At the same time participation in our sport is going to wane. We have generally lost out to computer games and Facebook. Now is not the time to make things more restrictive. I have heard y’all caterwauling from across the Ohio River for years, and just as you guys think you are losing out to the rifle hunters, I’ve got to contend with rapid bowhunters and rabid squirrel hunters saying that Kentucky’s Modern Weapon’s season screws them up. The truth is that about half the deer harvest in Kentucky comes from those two weeks, and if we did not have that kind of harvest every year, we would have deer coming out our collective wazoo. I do not exactly know what that means, but I am assured the condition is very painful.
My overall suggestion to you guys in Indiana and Ohio who do not like centerfire rifle coming into your state? Try it. You will like it. I spent my formative years in Ohio, shooting a Remington 1100 smoothbore. When I switched to a Remington 742 to hunt Kentucky, it was much better. I never regretted either move.