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Night-Vision Scopes, Poachers, and Shooting in the Dark

posted Mar 20, 2016, 9:52 AM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Oct 25, 2017, 2:04 PM ]

Update 2/13/2017.

Bad news: the original proposal--to allow anyone (for any ill-advised purpose) to use this military technology to kill coyotes--has been reintroduced in the bills HF 1163 / SF 1235.

Why use military technology? Because it's "cool." Why kill coyotes? Because they don't like them, they don't understand their role in nature (and they don't have to listen to anybody explain it to them), because coyotes make "exciting" moving targets, and because coyotes aren't protected as "game" animals. Why aren't coyotes protected as game animals? See the answer to "why kill coyotes" above.

They've disregarded the testimony, discussions, and resolutions of last year, and are just "taking another run at it." Not a lot of deep thinking involved.

House authors: Drazkowski ; Hertaus ; Green ; Whelan

Senate authors: Lang ; Ingebrigtsen ; Schoen ; Utke ; Koran

Update 5/22/2016

For some reason--confusion, drama, nutty politics, or something--the 2016 Game & Fish Bill HF 2844 / SF 2758 wasn't passed. Thus the use of night-vision scopes and thermal-imaging devices in Minnesota remains in the realm of military weaponry.

Part of the story appears in the article "Pared-down game and fish bill, as amended, moves on." By Jonathan Moore, Session Daily 5/22/2016.

In short, several sections of the Game & Fish Bill were moved around to other bills (e.g. HF 2845 / SF 2759), and although some of those might have passed, this one didn't.

Update: 4/1/2016.

Good news: the called-for fix (for equipment testing only) was made to the MN House Game & Fish Bill HF 2844 on 4/1/2016

The credit for this change probably goes to the MN DNR Division of Enforcement.

With the 4/1/2016 fix, the MN House Game & Fish Bill would allow R&D personnel to test night-vision or thermal-imaging equipment, but would not open up the equipment for use in recreational hunting (as introduced by Reps. Anderson and Drazkowski on 3/22/2016).

3/22/2016: please write or call your Representative

Your Member of the MN House of Representatives needs to know where you stand.

Please ask your MN Representative to follow the MN DNR's advice on firearms safety and law enforcement regarding night-vision and thermal-imaging equipment:
  • Research & Development--no problem.
  • Law-enforcement & Military use--no problem.
  • Hunting--no night-vision or thermal-imaging equipment.
If changes to the MN Hunting Regulations are proposed...
  • In the thermal-imaging equipment bill HF 3160.
  • Or in the Game & Fish Bill HF 2844.
Please vote no!

In the News

Good article:

Orrick, Dave. 2016. “Would Night Vision Make Coyote Hunting Safer? Divisions Arise.” Twin Cities, March 29. 

Only one sentence correct:

"The DNR says the bill would make hunting more dangerous at night, and would lead to more poaching."

Kolls, Jay. 2016. “Night Goggle Hunting of Coyotes in Minnesota Proposed.” KSTP.com. March 30. 

Update: 3/22/2016

The MN House Committee on Mining & Outdoor Recreation Policy heard two bills (in order, HF 3160 and HF 2819) to allow the use of thermal-imaging weapons sights in recreational hunting at its 3/22/2016 meeting. Committee Chair Rep. Tom Hackbarth, on a unanimous voice vote, passed the first bill (HF 3160) on to the House floor; and without a vote laid-over the second bill (HF 2819) for possible inclusion in the Game & Fish Bill HF 2844.

MN Rep. Mark Anderson presenting MN 2016 HF 3160.

Background: MN Statutes Section 97B.086 prohibits an individual or group from possessing night-vision or thermal-imaging equipment while taking wild animals, or while in the possession of an uncased-and-loaded hunting weapon. It makes an exception for law-enforcement and military personnel. Thermal-imaging equipment was added to it in the 2014 Game & Fish Bill.

Testifying against both bills, Col. Rodmen Smith, MN DNR Director of Enforcement, cited the same concerns for enforcement (poaching) and firearms safety that led to the 2014 prohibition. First, that enforcement is difficult when thermal-imaging devices are in use: poachers use them to conceal their activities at night. Second, that, depending on the level of technology, the image of the target is not necessarily sufficient for positive identification. Third, that the background image is not sufficient to show what lies beyond the target. 

Testifying in support of the first bill (HF 3160), Bryan Peterson, a representative of Federal Ammunition, Anoka, MN, described the bill as a "technical fix" intended to allow staff to carry out research & development of the company's military and law-enforcement products. Somewhat to the contrary, he pointed out that Federal Ammunition's subsidiary (under the "Vista Outdoors" umbrella) Bushnell Night Optics is now marketing the devices to consumers. He said they're becoming more and more of an "everyday-type technology." He showed an iPhone case outfitted with a thermal-imaging device.

Col. Smith pointed out that the bill, as written, was not just a technical fix for research & development, but would open up the devices to general recreational hunting. He offered to work with the author and Federal Ammunition to make the necessary adjustments to allow for research & development.

The first bill was forwarded, without amendment, to the House floor. This was done in a hurry, in a short session, not fully respecting the objections of the MN DNR or fulfilling the committee's responsibility to approve of the bills that it sends to the House floor. Presumably, but not necessarily, the bill will be amended on the floor by the author, in agreement with the MN DNR.

Testifying in support of the second bill (HF 2819), farmer and coyote hunter Charles DeWitz described how for ten years, up until the 2014 prohibition, he had used a thermal-imaging sight for coyote hunting. He runs a cow-calf operation, and he's had a couple of problems with coyotes. He didn't say so, but apparently that's another reason he hunts them. He doesn't want to set traps around the farm, and he doesn't want to disturb the neighbors by hunting with a light at night. He said the target image you see through a thermal-imaging sight is better and safer than the eyes you see in a light, or the dark shape you see in the moonlight.

The second bill was laid-over, without amendment, for possible inclusion in the MN House Game & Fish Bill (HF 2844). Rep. Hackbarth did not give any indication that he would amend the second bill in the manner that he had directed for the first bill (the MN DNR opposed both bills on the same grounds, and the second bill on additional grounds). The Game & Fish Bill is an omnibus bill, on which Members may (if they're strongly motivated) offer amendments, but may not otherwise vote on individual sections of the bill. It can provide a kind of "safe haven" for controversial bills like this, that most Members are not strongly motivated to oppose.

In summary: these two bills, contrary to the advice of law-enforcement and contrary to existing Statute, were launched on separate tracks, apparently in the hope that at least one of them would avoid or survive examination and opposition.

rep.tom.hackbarth@house.mn, rep.dale.lueck@house.mn, rep.tom.anzelc@house.mn, rep.mark.anderson@house.mn, rep.jack.considine@house.mn, rep.tony.cornish@house.mn, rep.rob.ecklund@house.mn, rep.jerry.hertaus@house.mn, rep.brian.johnson@house.mn, rep.deb.kiel@house.mn, rep.eric.lucero@house.mn, rep.denny.mcnamara@house.mn, rep.carly.melin@house.mn, rep.jason.metsa@house.mn, rep.barb.yarusso@house.mn

Cc: Committee staff and bill authors.

Stephanie.Lamphere@house.mn, Claire.Leiter@house.mn, Janelle.Taylor@house.mn, Christopher.Kleman@house.mn, rep.steve.drazkowski@house.mn, rep.chris.swedzinski@house.mn, rep.josh.heintzeman@house.mn

Re: Night-Vision Scopes and Wildlife Vigilantes (Opposed to HF 2819 & HF 3160)

Get ready for some wild-west, Minnesota coyote-cowboy, vigilante, American-sharpshooter, marketing hype! "It's comin' yer way!"

Proposals to allow hunting with military-style night-vision optics:

These bills are on a fast track at the MN House of Representatives. They were introduced on 3/10/2016 and 3/16/2016, with hearings promptly scheduled for 3/22/2016.

Why? Because we're afraid of predators! And we hate those dirty prairie dogs! 

No, not really; most of us aren't, and we don't. We're learning how to live with themWe're not buying the old misinformation.

To put this in perspective: if the DNR were to propose a coyote-extermination program, we would ask them for their references, and they wouldn't be able to produce them. The proposal would fizzle out. Ill-advised. No scientific merit.

But cloak this "killing for the sake of killing" in a slick marketing package, and its base motivations might start to look more like the manly weapon toting that's portrayed in the sales videos: rescues and security.

Minnesota legislators, we need you to see through the hype and examine the issues. Minnesota does not have, and should not have, a coyote-extermination program. When the proponents of these new technologies say they need them to kill more coyotes, ask them for their references. There won't be any. Killing more coyotes isn't the answer to any problem in wildlife management, livestock-depredation control, or public safety. The proposal is ill-advised. No scientific merit. Please oppose HF 2819 and HF 3160. 


Screenshot from a promotional video for the "Armasight Zeus Thermal Imaging Weapon Sights for the Sporting, Law Enforcement and Military markets."


Screenshot from a promotional video for the "ATN ThOR640 Thermal Imaging Weapon Sight - 5x, 640x480, 30Hz"