Should Minnesota Hunters Be Required To Wear Back Tags?

I’m beginning to hear rumblings that some people think Minnesota should go to a system requiring hunters to wear their license on the back.   This discussion is prompted by the much publicized shooting that occurred last weekend in Northern Wisconsin.   The thinking is by displaying the number it would give other hunters a mechanism to identify and report law violators.

It was reported last Sunday that the hunters who had encountered Vang (the alleged murderer) had taken note of his back tag number by writing it in the dirt (on the ATV, I believe).   When investigators finally arrived at the scene they found this number so they knew who the likely alleged shooter was.   If Wisconsin had not used a back tag system, there would have been no positive way to so quickly identify the alleged participants in this massacre.

There are many states besides Wisconsin that do require hunting license back tags.   A few of these states would include Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, Maine, as well as others.   Primarily the historic reason for the tags was not for identification, but to curb the problem of hunters simply hunting without a license.   In fact, many of these states actually used a button that would be worn on the outside of a person’s hunting clothing.   As licenses evolved, so too has the way states have required hunters to display them.   Today, most of the states that require the display of the license ask for hunters to affix it to the area between the shoulder blades worn on the outer most garment of clothing on the back.

So is it time Minnesota goes to such a system for its licensing?   Truthfully I have mixed feelings on this issue.   As a landowner who has encountered trespassers over the years it has always been my frustration how to properly identify the law violators.   Because I am not a law enforcement official, do I really have the authority to require identification in the form of a driver’s license?   I’m guessing that person has no obligation or duty to me to hand over his/her license to prove identity.   Furthermore, it gets into a very gray area if I can even take any action to detain this person on my property waiting for law enforcement to arrive.   Certainly by attempting such action could quickly escalate the situation.

So yes, indeed, if hunters were required to wear a back tag it would allow positive identification with even the most casual of contact.   The problem is trespassing doesn’t always occur just during hunting season.   Sometimes it is during the pre-season for scouting.   Maybe for the system to really work a person would be required to display this tag whenever he is out participating in activities related to hunting (when in-season or off-season).

Again, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the real reason that most of the states have this system is for the game wardens and conservation officers to do a quick license check.   In most cases these are states that have lots of hunters and taking the time to have hunters remove a license from a wallet is simply not practical.   The officers can move on quickly to check other hunters after doing a quick back check.   Still, I have not heard Minnesota Conservation Officers urging a big groundswell to go to this system…so I must assume wearing back tags is not a big enforcement issue here in Minnesota.

Oddly enough the people who want to see us move to this system are hunters themselves.   One would think that hunters would be the last group that would want to require such actions be taken.   Let’s face it, when you pin a license on your back it can get easily snagged and torn off while walking through brushy areas.   Then what do you do?   Go spend another $5 to purchase a replacement tag?   Is it necessary to suspend your hunting activities until you drive to town and find an ELS license vendor who can print one off for you?   To me this seems like the potential for much more hassle than benefit.

I’ll admit I have never hunted in a state that required back tags as part of the legal requirement.   At this point in time it would take more convincing for me to be an advocate of this change here in Minnesota.   It’s quite obvious that wearing such tags did not serve as deterrent to trespassing in Wisconsin last weekend…and I doubt it would have little effect here in Minnesota, as well.   Instead, let’s put some greater teeth into our current trespassing laws not only with monetary penalties, but perhaps with some form of community service component as punishment to those who are careless in their travels.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.