Are Hunters Being Driven Away From Our Sport By Too Many Regulations?

Recently a well-known outdoors writer from Minnesota lamented how the deer hunting regulations were getting so cumbersome that it took several hours of reading through them the night before deer season began just to understand them.   Others in attendance at the meeting were quick to point out that it was probably foolish for him to wait until the night before the season opened to finally start looking them over.   Yet, the point remains why is it necessary for the game laws and regulations to be so damn confusing.

MNhuntRegs08When I started hunting deer in Minnesota back in the 1970’s the rules and regulations were contained in just small pamphlets.   Oh sure, to be fair, big game, small game, waterfowl and trapping regulations were contained separately in small pamphlets no more than about 12 pages long each.   Today, however, everything is combined into one book and for 2008 it just so happens to be 130 pages long.

I’m sure this problem is not isolated to Minnesota, either.   Around the country I hear sportsmen complain how things just aren’t as simple as they used to be.   Is it possible we’ve regulated our hunting, fishing and trapping seasons so aggressively that you need to be a 2nd year law student just to interpret them?   Some folks would likely think so.

Recently about 50 goose hunters from Minnesota had their records expunged and fines that were paid returned due to a misinterpretation of the migratory waterfowl law during the early goose season (read more HERE).   They were improperly cited due to a loophole in the law that allowed unplugged shotguns and electronic calls during part of the season the past three years.   In other words, here’s proof that even those charged to enforce the game laws can make mistakes through improper interpretation.

Early last spring the Minnesota DNR announced it was going to make some of the most dramatic changes to the big game hunting regulations seen in several decades.   Why?   In one word…to “simplify” them.   The licensing menu had taken on too many options.   Certain seasons existed in zones that made little sense to wildlife managers.   Certain tagging and game validation requirements were ripe for change.   So change was instituted even though many hunting traditionalists resisted the radical deer season changes.

So, here we have the 2008 hunting regulations book (you can see a copy by clicking HERE).   All 130 pages of rules, regulations and advertisements (of course in the download version those pages show up as intentionally left blank).   At first glance there isn’t much to it that strikes me as being simplified.   I predict it will take me even longer this fall to acquaint myself with all the new rules and changes I must learn as a hunter and trapper.

But let’s step back from the specifics and look at things more generally speaking.   Put yourself in the shoes of a new hunter.   Back 30 years ago most of the laws and regulations one had to learn were basic and made sense.   Contrast that to what we have now.   There’s actually a section in the rules explaining “HOW TO BUY A FIREARMS DEER LICENSE.”   That’s right.   Thirty years ago the pamphlet would have simply listed the price for the deer license.   Today, the DNR finds it necessary to issue a lengthy explanation as to how to buy the right license.

Let’s shift gears here for just a bit.   Last week I attended a District 8 meeting for the Minnesota Trappers Association where the discussion focused on Minnesota’s mandatory youth trapper education requirement.   All persons born after Dec. 31, 1989 who have never purchased a trapping license must attend a free class before they are validated and can purchase a trapping license.   Problem is the program relies on volunteer instructors and finding a class has been a problem for some youth.   End result…NO class taken…NO trapping is allowed (in MN).

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the concept of trapper education is a wonderful one.   I wish they had it back when I started trapping at the age of 12.   I had to learn on my own.   I made mistakes.   I had nobody to teach me.   Problem is if I would have had to take one of these mandatory classes back in 1975 I would have probably abandoned the sport altogether.   A 12–year old can’t drive.   My mother who was then recently widowed wouldn’t have taken me to an all-day class 20 or 30 miles away.   It just wouldn’t have happened.   Bottom line…I would have never taken up trapping…hence I probably wouldn’t have developed a keen interest in the outdoor world…and right now I would be blogging about (heaven forbid) movies or some other mundane topic like that.

In closing, I just want to say that I think it’s time our state game departments get back to the basics before it’s too late.   As sportsmen we have enough attrition and general decline in our participation numbers we don’t need to find further ways to turn people off to our sport.   It shouldn’t take all night to read the regulation book just to comply with how we need to legally conduct ourselves afield.   Besides being confusing, it can downright take some of the fun out of the sport.

I pride myself on knowing the game and fish laws and following them very closely.   It’s the way I chose to live outdoors AND how I chose to pass that ethic on to the next generation around me.   I’ve grown accustomed to hunting and fishing regulations being increasingly burdensome to us sportsmen.   Yet, I think it’s time some big changes need to occur before it’s simply too late and more sportsmen quit out of utter frustration.

2008 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.