Why Some Minnesota Farmers May Not Let You Hunt Their Land

It all started as a great idea proposed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton as an effort to improve water quality.  I’m talking about the Minnesota Buffer Law which establishes new requirements for perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, and streams and buffers of 16.5 feet along ditches.  And while I am somewhat torn by the real value of this new land use requirement, as I have previously written…I see both sides of the issue as a landowner and as a sportsman.

Now, when Governor Dayton announced his new legacy project to a bunch of sportsmen at the 2015 DNR Roundtable meetings there was lots of excitement from the conservation community.  On the other hand, many landowners felt the proposal (and subsequent law) went too far in dictating how a landowner must use their land.

Well, at this point I’m not going to debate the issue.   Rather, I’m just here to say there are lots of farmers and landowners who are fed up with the bureaucracy involved and it only seems to be getting worse.

Indeed, a farmer who doesn’t have the required 50-foot vegetative buffer can suffer some consequences if they are out of compliance after November 1st.  In most cases these will be fines levied against the non-complaint landowner.   In some instances, however, a farmer could be facing criminal prosecution.  That’s right, criminal prosecution as is the case in Traverse County, Minnesota and likely other counties.

Now, you can imagine that doesn’t sit well with many in the agriculture community.  Of course, if you are a landowner with no rivers or public ditches, then the issue doesn’t really matter to that particular farmer.  On the other hand, many other farmers feel the government telling them how to conduct their livelihood on land they own or operate is an invasion on their rights.

Then comes along the sportsman who this fall might want to scare up a pheasant or two.  Quite honestly, I think many farmers look at the sportsman as being the rallying point for this new conservation mandate.  After all, the vast majority of sportsmen are not landowners and really have little to lose, and perhaps some to gain with more hunting opportunities thanks to buffers.

So, this fall some sportsmen may now be seeing this sign posted on the perimeter of potential hunting grounds:

What do you think, sportsmen?  It’s hard enough to get permission to traipse on private property doing our hunting thing.  Is an agitated gatekeeper to such lands the best way to do this?  How has this issue become a mutually beneficial relationship for both sportsmen and landowners?

I want to hear your thoughts.  Okay, I get all the arguments for improving the environment, etc.  But really sportsmen…is a proposal you were cheering almost three years ago going to pay recreational dividends when one of the parties of this relationship feels lots of angst because of the buffer measure?  When the gatekeeper isn’t happy this is not a good thing, in my honest opinion.

Refreshing Read: My State Legislator “Gets It!”

A couple of times each week my Legislator in the Minnesota House of Representatives sends out an emailed newsletter.   I’ll be honest, I read almost every one of them…but often I stop a paragraph or two into the usual diatribe being offered.   It’s not that I disagree with his rantings, moreover, it’s more a situation of how many politic-related matters these days just bore me to death.

But when I read his most recent update mailed today it struck a chord with me.   In fact, even though you many not care about Minnesota game and fish matters this situation could hold true for any state.   All it takes is one “over-zealous” conservation officer to ruin your day.   As a sportsman, you have certain ethics of fair chase, statutory laws and administrative rules to govern your behavior in the field.   Well, guess what…game wardens, or conservation officers as they prefer to be called here in Minnesota, have enforcement rules they must play by, too!

Without further ado, take a read of my Legislator, Rep. Steve Drazkowski’s (21B) update to his constituents:

Hello from St. Paul,


 When it comes to enforcement of game and fish regulations, many people I hear from usually have a bone to pick with the Department of Natural Resources – probably because the result of their encounter ended with a ticket.


 But other times I’m presented with information that suggests the DNR has overstepped its authority and needs to be reminded that the agency is in place to serve the people, not vice versa.


As a hunter, I can understand how many Minnesotans put their lives on hold for one weekend or week each fall so they can participate in a sport that they love. For some families or groups of friends, it’s the one time each year where everyone travels to a specific location and gets together for a few days of camaraderie and the hope of spotting an elusive white-tail.


That’s why I was disappointed to learn that some of my constituents from Wabasha and Winona counties basically had their hunt ruined by some over-zealous game wardens.


While out on their annual hunt last November, a DNR airplane flew overhead monitoring their every move, for well over an hour. That alone is not illegal; but according to the hunters, what was troubling was the low level of height at which the airplane was repeatedly flying.


Federal law requires normal hunter airplane surveillance to be conducted above 500 feet. Typically, the DNR tells us that their pilots’ normal altitude during these hunter surveillance flights is between 800 to 1,000 feet. Yet in this instance, the hunters tell me the plane was hovering between 100 to 300 feet over their heads, saying it was so loud they couldn’t hear each other speak.


The problem is if an airplane is flying that low and making that much noise, the deer are going to get spooked and leave the area, which is exactly what happened. Eventually these hunters gave up their position and left because the deer had been scared away. Their yearly weekend of fun had ended early through no fault of their own.


Keep in mind; these hunters were doing nothing wrong. The wardens eventually checked every one of them. They had licenses. They were not illegally baiting deer. They were not driving around with loaded shotguns. They were not doing anything illegal, just simply and legally participating in a sport that they enjoy and minding their own business.


I fully understand that the DNR needs to enforce hunting laws. There is nothing wrong with officers walking up to hunters and asking them for their registration. But hovering an aircraft at 200 feet and scaring the hunting party and every animal in sight in order to spy on hunters makes absolutely no sense.


After hearing from these constituents, I crafted and amended a bill stating that DNR aircraft could not fly below 500 feet for normal hunter surveillance, unless game wardens had probable cause of wrongdoing. Failure to stick to this threshold would cost the pilot $1,000.


The bill was heard in our House environment policy committee and was received favorably by the chair of the group. During the hearing, the DNR testified that this incident was a rare exception to the rule.


That may be, but its small consolation to those hunters who had their hunting experience ruined. I’m left to wonder how many other area hunters have suffered a similar fate but just didn’t bother to report the problem.


The DNR has a job to do and I respect that, and the vast majority of our conservation officers do their job very well. But the overwhelming majority of deer hunters are also playing by the rules, so it seems pointless to harass them and potentially ruin their experience simply because watching them from the sky is easier than approaching them on foot.


Have a good weekend,


SteveWeekly Legislative Update Email

Now, please understand I’m not some anti-enforcement advocate with a chip on my shoulder when it comes to game wardens.   Quite the contrary.   However, I have worked in the criminal justice field (particularly criminal defense) and I can tell you how those folks entrusted to uphold the law need checks and balances on their powers just as much as the typical citizens needs clearly defined laws to guide their proper behavior.

I’ve seen first-hand how law officers will push the limits of their powers.   I’ve seen how sloppy job performance can be corrected by creative report writing.   Indeed, the very people who are badge wearing professionals entrusted to use proper procedure will at times take shortcuts or other inappropriate measures.   Oh, I’m sure the actions are sometimes justified in their minds because they are up against all odds when it comes to performance of their sworn duties.

All of that being said, Steve’s got it right when here in Minnesota for many families deer hunting comes down to just one weekend spent in the woods each year.   How can you maximize that recreational satisfaction when big government goes to such extremes to keep an eye on you in the manner he claims?

During the 35+ years I have been hunting, fishing, trapping, etc. I have seen the number of rules I must follow explode into a fairly large synopsis nowadays too large to even fit into one’s pocket.   It seems only fair and reasonable that if common sense doesn’t dictate the appropriate actions of law officers than we must write more rules that govern their behavior, as well.

The way I view it…it’s not about making a tough job even tougher by setting enforcement limits.   Instead, it’s giving those who wear the badge an opportunity to lead by example following their own rules first and foremost.   Kudos Rep. Drazkowski on a job well done and for the courage to make this change of policy!

Discover Even More To The SHOT Show Away From The Exhibit Floor

Would it surprise you if your best discovery while attending the annual SHOT Show came to you when you weren’t technically at the show?   In many ways, the SHOT Show is about connections with people and I’m here to tell you not all networking or business opportunities will occur at the Sands Convention Center next week.   Here’s what I mean….

Now first, let me be perfectly clear…I am not talking about “carpetbagging” or “suitcasing” practices that the SHOT Show strictly forbids.   Essentially both of these tradeshow practices are activities undertaken by companies who try to take advantage of attendees at the show without paying for or actually participating in exhibitor booth space.   In other words, some companies in order to save money will conduct their sales activities on the fringe of the tradeshow in order to capitalize on a high concentration of prospects.

LetsTalkInstead, I am talking about keeping your eyes and ears open at all times for any opportunity.

Several years back I was at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and needed to catch a taxi to my hotel.   As it turns out, the guy standing near me needed a taxi for a different hotel just around the corner.   We shared the ride (and the expense) and the journey made an awesome new industry connection for a new writer.   Not only did we share a mutual activity in both arriving to town for SHOT, but the ride gave us an opportunity to discover how a mutually beneficial relationship could evolve out of the chance encounter.

That’s what I am talking about.   Even though it may not be in your personal nature to chat up people who are perfect strangers, the nice thing is if you know someone is at SHOT you already have something in common with them.   In essence, you have a conversation begging to happen.   Furthermore, within the first 30 seconds you can usually gauge how receptive the other person is to continuing on.   Granted, some people will have a lot on their minds and don’t care to lose their focus talking to some person they will never meet again.   That’s perfectly fine.   It’s not a rejection of you, it’s more a statement about them and the lost opportunities they are not willing to experience with their chilly personality.

Several years back a colleague of mine, Jeff, stepped outside the exhibit floor down in Orlando where they had an area set aside for smoking.   Now, I will never suggest a person take up smoking to put yourself in a position to socialize with others, but Jeff started chatting up a show attendee and discovered this guy was selling the primary item Jeff wanted to discover while at the show.   Things don’t always work out that perfectly, but it certainly can happen.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I have been riding in an elevator with other show goers and had to ask…”where the hell did you get that?”   They will respond how such and such booth is giving the item away.   Perhaps you totally missed it at the show, but away from the show is also when discoveries can be made.

Here’s a few quick pointers for striking up a conversation with a SHOT Show stranger(either at or away from the show):

  • Consider what is happening at the moment.  Are you both waiting in line for a shuttle bus?  Say something like “I hope that bus driver didn’t get lost…I have a HOT date tonight!”   Break the ice with a statement that begs for further conversation.
  • Watch their eyes.   If they purposely avoid making direct eye contact with you than it’s a good bet they don’t want to talk.   On the other hand, direct eye contact is akin to a personal handshake non verbally indicating…TALK TO ME!   Make the verbal move immediately.
  • Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a one-word response.   “So, tell me about the best product you’ve seen so far at the show.”
  • Wear something odd or unique that encourages people to ask you questions.   Let others begin the conversation by being inquisitive.
  • Above all, appear receptive to others talking to you.   Put a smile on that face.   Look positive.   Strive for a confident appearance.   Appear as the type of person who has what others seek and appear willing to openly share a minute or two of conversation with them.

In closing, the SHOT Show networking potential extends far beyond the walls of the convention center, or even Las Vegas, for that matter.   Once you treat the entire SHOT Show experience as a unique business adventure, you’ll begin to understand how the show can positively change lives from the moment you leave home.

©2014 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.