Politics and Deer Management

Bashing politicians is generally not my style, but today I just couldn't resist. Late last week, Minnesota deer hunters learned that our first firearms deer season (we have three; two November general firearms hunts, followed by a December blackpowder season) would be lengthened by two days.

Sounds harmless enough, right? But the devil is in the details…of which there are quite a few. The season-stretching only occurs in one of the state's zones. Better yet, these last two days will be under the following rules; earn-a-buck, antler point restrictions (all bucks must have four points per side) and no cross-tagging. None of these rules will apply for the first seven days of the season, but on that last weekend…well, better behave yourselves, boys! I feel for the conservation officers stuck with trying to enforce these inane, confusing rules.

If the system seem illogical, consider the source; the Minnesota State Legislature. The season extension was opposed by the DNR and two of the state's key deer hunting groups. But state representatives caved to pressure from a vocal minority of hunters who clamored for a season extension. A few key representatives decided to make this their pet project, and presto…the season is changed! On an even sadder note, the DNR is in the process of gathering hunter's input about the deer season, setting up a series of informational meetings to discuss management changes, and possibly re-tooling the deer season based on a true, broad-based public input process! This legislation throws a huge wrench in that process.

Make no mistake, these are probably not earth-shattering changes that will have huge ramifications for the Minnesota deer herd. But they do set a dangerous precedent; if the length, timing and regulations of the deer season can be set by lawmakers--many of whom know nothing about wildlife management--what will they meddle with next? Walleye bag limits? Catch-and-release rules for trout? Minimum caliber requirements for moose hunting?

It's no secret that I do not always agree with the decisions made by state game management agencies. But I still respect them for their knowledge, expertise and dedication to the resource. The politicians who made this decision--and who may make others in the future--do not share those qualities. They are mucking around in unfamiliar ground, hoping some votes will stick to their boots in the process.

Have any of you shared a similar experience? How far can legislators reach into the rule books governing hunting and fishing in your state?