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Rifle Use / Deer Hunting

Village of Vernon Ordinance:
§244-2 Use of Firearms and Bow and Arrows

The use of certain caliber rifles for hunting deer will not be restricted by DNR rules statewide starting on Nov. 1, 2013.   In time for the 2013  9-day firearm deer season. 

This means that unless there is a local ordinance that restricts the use of rifles in the village you will be hunting, you will be able to use rifles of calibers legal for hunting deer statewide in 2013.

However, the Oct. 5-6 youth gun deer hunt will still be restricted to shotgun-only in those portions of the state that were previously shotgun-only (see map page 23 of 2013 deer regs).

The timing of this change came after the 2013 deer regulations were printed, so the change to allow the use of rifles statewide will not be reflected in the print versions of the regulations.

Hunters should check with the local municipality where they hunt to determine if a local ordinance is in place that might still restrict the use of certain rifles in that town or other municipality.


In the past, some counties were designated shotgun only for deer hunting primarily because the common perception is that shotguns are safer. 

Data collected by DNR every deer season does not support this perception.  The department has not identified a safety-related advantage to maintaining shotgun-only areas within the state or the use of shotguns vs. rifles in portions of the state.
The DNR did not enter into this decision lightly and no matter the type of weapon a hunter chooses to use, the Department’s expectation is that each hunter follow the safe hunting practices taught in hunter education:

T = Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
A = Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
B = Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.
K = Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

Rifle calibers are routinely used in handguns for hunting deer and handguns have been legal firearms in shotgun only counties for many years. 

Rifles have also always been legal for hunting statewide all year except for the 9-day gun deer season for species such as coyote, fox, bear, etc., during their open seasons.

During 2002-2007, rifles were authorized within former shotgun-only portions of Dane, Green, Lafayette, Rock and Walworth counties contained in the CWD Disease Eradication Zones with no increase in shooting incidents.

The DNR, looked at hunting accident data from 1998-2007.  Those data show that shotguns are actually involved in more accidents relative to their use.  Although 33% of counties were shotgun only at that time, just over 40% of all gun deer incidents involved shotguns.  Conversely, although 67% of counties allowed the use of rifles, rifles accounted for less than 60% of all gun deer incidents.   

A 2007 study commissioned by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly concluded shotguns are not less risky than rifles in hunting deer. This study demonstrated that shotgun slugs are far more prone to ricochet than rifle bullets.

The Dept. appreciates local governments’ concerns for public safety.  The Department likewise puts a high priority on safety.  However, no evidence exists that hunting with rifles is more dangerous than hunting with shotguns.

Ordinances restricting the use of rifles can create a checkerboard of regulations that makes it more difficult for hunters to comply with the law.  

What brought about this most recent rule change:

A large amount of public input and involvement went into the final rule proposal. 

The proposal originated as a local citizen resolution at a Cons Congress spring meeting.

The proposal was voted on statewide at the Conservation Congress spring meetings held in all counties statewide, where the rule change question was supported statewide by a vote of Yes, 2,742 and No, 1,973; being supported in 61 counties.

In April of this year, the DNR held legal rules change hearings in each county statewide, and again found there to be a strong overall support for the use of rifles statewide (Vote was 3,007 in favor and 2,171 opposed with 60 counties in favor of the change). 

As a result of the public support for this change, the Natural Resources Board adopted the DNR’s recommendation to remove its restriction on using rifles for hunting deer in areas where formerly only shotguns, handguns and muzzle loading rifles were allowed.  The change was reviewed and not objected to by the Legislatures Senate and Assembly NR committees and the Governor.

The previous trend has been for one or two counties, or portions thereof, switching from shotgun-only to allowing rifles each year.   Creating one statewide rule will help to simplify the hunting regulations, which was a directive to the Cons. Congress by Governor Walker. 

Authority of local units of government to create rules restricting firearm use:

  • Local units of government may not pass ordinances for the purpose of regulating hunting. However, they may enact ordinances with a primary purpose of protecting public health and safety, even if there is an incidental impact on hunting.  
  • The Department has authority to void local ordinances that are designed for the purpose of regulating hunting, but has not initiated any action to declare any ordinance void in the past. If the Department were to do so, it would follow the Dept’s manual code 8309.1 and the process established in NR 19.40, Wis. Adm. Code, which requires notice and hearings. 

Impact on deer hunters:

  • State Hunting regulations publications do not provide information on local ordinances.
  • DNR staff may not know where these ordinances exist, or the exact text of the restrictions.
  • Local units of government are not required to file the ordinances with the DNR, and hunters that do not reside in a town with a more restrictive local ordinance may not be aware of it. 
  • If a person is unsure if the town in which they hunt has such a restriction, they should contact the Town authorities.
  • What will the DNR do if it gets a complaint about the use of rifles in violation of a local ordinance? The DNR will not dispatch wardens to complaints of rifle use if the area is open for rifle hunting under state law.  The caller will be directed to call the local authorities.
  • DNR wardens and rangers do not have the authority to enforce local ordinances established by local units of government, such as a Town, City or Village.
  • What will wardens do if they see people using restricted rifles in violation of an ordinance?  If the warden is aware of the ordinance, they will advise hunters in the field of the ordinance, but will not arrest or issue a citation for a local ordinance. 
  • DNR staff will refer questions about local ordinances to the local unit of government. 

Additional Background:

Expanded Use of Rifles allowed in Most of Southern Wisconsin in 2008 - Background and Safety Aspects
With changes in CWD rules in 2008, the Department allowed the use of rifles throughout the entire CWD Management Zone, with the exception of the Metro Deer Management Unit 76M.

The following table is a list of local ordinances that restrict rifle use that DNR was aware of in 2008.  This list may not be current as it has not been updated since 2008 and was not meant to cover any other areas of the state outside the CWD Management Zone. 
County Town Ordinance enacted to restrict use of certain rifles  
Dane Cottage Grove YES
Dane Rutland YES    (on books since 1959)
Dane Dunkirk YES    2008
Jefferson Oakland YES
Jefferson Milford YES    2008
Jefferson Waterloo YES    2008
Waukesha Eagle YES -- Not larger than a .22- passed Town Board on Sept. 17
Waukesha Genesee YES -- Not larger than a .22(on books prior to 2008)
Waukesha Mukwonago YES -- Not larger than a .22(on books prior to 2008)
Waukesha Oconomowoc YES -- Not larger than a .22(on books prior to 2008)
Waukesha Ottawa YES -- Not larger than .22- Town Board Meeting October 13, 2008
Waukesha Summit YES -- Not larger than a .22(on books prior to 2008)
Waukesha Waukesha YES -- Not larger than a .22(on books prior to 2008)