Deer hunting with rifles creates safety debate
While Department of Natural Resources officials say rifles are no more dangerous than shotguns firing slugs, some residents, including the vice president of the Beloit Rifle Club, worry that rifles could cause an increase in hunting accidents.
“I think the population is too heavy around here for rifles,” said Jim Browning, vice president of the Beloit Rifle Club. “That’s just my opinion. I’m not against rifles at all. I just think the area is too populated.”
Browning said he’s worried innocent people could get injured by stray rifle bullets.
Rock and Walworth counties are among 10 area counties that for the first time will allow rifles in parts or all of its land, according to the DNR.
This fall, 60 of Wisconsin's 72 counties are allowing hunters to use rifles on at least part of their land, DNR spokesman Greg Matthews said.
A citizens group that studied the DNR’s strategy for curbing chronic wasting disease recommended the change, Matthews said.
The goal is to contain the disease and reduce the overabundant deer population, he said.
One safety concern is that a shotgun slug travels about 200 yards, compared to up to 3 miles for a rifle bullet.
Rifles have been allowed in southern Rock County, western Walworth County and other parts of the state since 2003, Matthews said.
Mike Foy, a DNR wildlife biologist, said the perception that rifles are dangerous is unfounded.
“We have not been able to find any evidence that that is true based on our accident data,” Foy said.
A Pennsylvania study regarding deer hunting also found that rifles are no more dangerous than shotguns, he said.
Rifles will be allowed in the entire chronic wasting disease management zone this year, including all of Rock, Walworth, Jefferson, Green and Lafayette counties.
Southern Dodge, eastern Dane, southern Waukesha, western Racine and western Kenosha counties also are allowing rifles this year.
Chronic wasting disease was discovered six years ago in deer near Mount Horeb. The DNR allowed hunters to use rifles in some areas at that time to kill more deer and fight the disease.
Nearly 139,000 deer throughout the state have been tested for chronic wasting disease since 2002, with 990 testing positive, according to the DNR.
All of the positive cases were in southeastern Wisconsin, some of them near a separate outbreak in Illinois where 189 deer have tested positive, according to the DNR.
About 1.7 million deer roam the state, according to the DNR, and most areas of Wisconsin have more deer than the recommended population goals.