Deer hunting with rifles using pistol cartridges - bring on the debate

by Larry S. Moore

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' (ODNR) Division of Wildlife is holding open house meetings in all five districts to discuss season dates and bag limits of game species, which will include Ohio's most popular game animal, the white-tailed deer. The meetings will be Saturday, March 3, from 12 – 3 p.m. and are open to the public.

For many people the open houses are an opportunity to talk with the Division of Wildlife personnel. Sadly the attendance statistics reflect that most sportsmen stay home. Is this because Ohio's sportsmen think the Division is doing exactly what they desire? Or is it that Ohio's sportsmen are just too complacent to drive a few miles to the nearest open house? Judging by the letters to the Ohio Outdoor News the concerns are well articulated and debated. Writing a letter to the editor is easy in our electronic world. Driving an hour or more for a short meeting is much more difficult. But it is making the appearance and submitting your concern directly to the Division personnel that gets things moving.

A couple of dedicated hunters have been leading the efforts to bring rifles into the toolkit for Ohio's deer hunters. Buckeye Firearms Association Minutemen Dan Allen and Aaron Kirkingburg have spent hours researching material. They have attended previous open house events, met with Division of Wildlife personnel several times in 2011 and are presenting their case to sportsmen organizations. The upcoming open houses on March 3 could be pivotal in their efforts.

The proposal is pretty simple: any cartridge currently legal to hunt with in a handgun, would be legal in a rifle. They do not want a confusing list of "rifle only" cartridges. They are not asking for any changes to the current legal handgun cartridges and they are not asking for any special season. They are also proposing that the historic black powder cartridge rifles would be legal during regular gun season. This is not to be confused with muzzleloaders and no inclusion in any of the primitive weapon seasons. Caliber requirements remain the same as pistols in that anything .357 or larger in a black powder cartridge would be legal. Typically the black powder cartridge firearms have designations such as the .45-90 cartridge. The compliance for the 3-shot rule will be to allow the use of dummy or snap cap rounds as a simple solution that does not require firearm alteration. Their proposal includes a sunset provision giving the Division of Wildlife an "out" in the future if unforeseen problems result.

About five years ago when I encountered the proposal, my first thoughts were "what" and "why". Today my thoughts are "why not?". As a veteran hunter education instructor I have the incident reports from approximately the last 20 years. I've reviewed many of them. I've not encountered any deer hunting incident where the type of firearm would have caused or prevented the incident. Quite simply, the most important factor in hunting safety is the person pulling the trigger. Unfortunately this year there have been incidents where the gun safety rule that is often repeated in hunter education classes was ignored and the results were tragic. "Know your target and beyond" should be on every hunters' mind before pulling that trigger. Regardless of the type of firearm or archery equipment being used. Period.

Indiana approved allowing rifles with pistol cartridges in 2007. A Google search turned up plenty of news articles and discussion forums about the change. I couldn't find any data to indicate problems nor safety issues with the rifle use. The deer hunting sportsmen and women of Ohio should have the opportunity to hunt Ohio deer with their choice of hunting tools. While some may not like to admit it, almost all hunting today is sport hunting. We should be able to enjoy that sport with the tools we choose.

The arguments I've heard against allowing rifle hunting in Ohio sound very much like the anti-gun people who were screaming about blood running in the streets if Ohio passed a concealed carry law. It didn't happen then. I don't think it will happen if we allow rifle hunting in Ohio. Other arguments sound very anti-hunting much like those who thought crossbows would ruin the Ohio deer herd. Well, we are all still here and the deer herd is still healthy. So goes the thinking for that which we don't like or understand. In fact, I'll go so far as to say Allen and Kirkingburg are being very conservative in their request. I don't know why we don't go ahead and allow rifle hunting for Ohio's deer. There just isn't a whole lot of difference between modern inline muzzleloaders or rifled deer slug guns with sabot technology ammo and many rifles.

What I think isn't so important. My comments are ready for the Division open house. What do you think? Do you want the opportunity to hunt with rifles that use handgun cartridges? Are you a cowboy action shooter that might like to take a deer with the rifle you use in competition? Or are you dead set against these changes and quite sure that this writer and a few others are off our rockers? Wherever you stand, do you care enough to get to the open house events and properly voice your opinion where it counts? I hope to see some of you at the District 5 open house.

Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Foundation and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year and the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year.

Open House Location Information for March 3:

  • Central Ohio - Wildlife District One Office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, 614- 644-3925
  • Northwest Ohio - Wildlife District Two Office, 952 Lima Avenue, Findlay, 419-424-5000
  • Northeast Ohio - Wildlife District Three Office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, 330-644-2293
  • Southeast Ohio - Wildlife District Four Office, 360 E. State Street, Athens, 740-589-9930
  • Southwest Ohio - Greene County Fish and Game Club, 1538 Union Road, Xenia, 937-372-9261

For more information or directions to the open houses, visit the Division of Wildlife’s website at or call 800-WILDLIFE (945-3543).

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