Night-Vision Scopes, Poachers, and Shooting in the Dark
Post date: Mar 20, 2016 4:52:28 PM
This article is about a series of bills that were introduced from the 2016 session of the Minnesota Legislature to the 2018 session to allow (variously, according to each bill) the use of night-vision sights, thermal-imaging sights, and/or artificial lighting in the hunting of foxes and coyotes, or all predators, or all unprotected animals.
Proponents skipped over the issues of public safety and law enforcement, and testified in favor of the bills on the basis of hunter convenience and the desire of predator hunters to kill more predators.
Opponents pointed out the serious problems that the bills would introduce for public safety and law enforcement.
Problems for public safety: the proposed technologies for identifying a target at night don't identify what lies beyond the target. Of course, a basic rule of weapons safety is to "know your target and what lies beyond it." This is especially important for high-powered rifles, which can be deadly at long distances.
Problems for law enforcement: the proposed bills would make things easier for poachers, and harder for law enforcement.
In order to understand what the proposed bills would change, here's a quick summary of current Minnesota Statues regulating night hunting (see the Statutes for full details):
- Section 97B.075 does not restrict the night-time hunting of unprotected wild animals, including coyotes.
- Section 97B.075 restricts the night-time hunting of protected wild animals to the following:
- Hunting raccoon or fox.
- Hunting big game or wolf from 1/2-hour before sunrise until 1/2-hour after sunset.
- Hunting waterfowl from 1/2-hour before sunrise until sunset.
- Section 97B.621 sets the following requirements for the night-time hunting of raccoons:
- The hunter must be on foot.
- Artificial lighting is allowed only if hunting with dogs.
- Rifle or handgun cartridges may only be rimfire .17 or .22 caliber.
- Shotgun shells may not fire shot larger than No. 4.
- Section 97B.086 prohibits the use of night-vision or thermal-imaging equipment in hunting.
- Section 97B.081 (among other prohibitions) prohibits the use of artificial lighting in hunting, with the following exceptions:
- An unarmed person may use artificial lighting from two hours after sunset until sunrise to locate a wild animal.
- An unarmed person, on foot, may use artificial lighting to retrieve a wounded or dead big-game animal.
- Artificial lighting may be used to hunt raccoon according to Section 97B.621.
- Artificial lighting may be used to tend traps according to Section 97B.931.
- Hand-held artificial lighting may be used to hunt fox or coyote from January 1 to March 15 by a hunter on foot, using a shotgun and a calling device, not in a road right-of-way, and not within 200 feet of a motor vehicle.
In order to understand what the proposed bills would change for coyote hunters, here's how current Minnesota Statues "boil down" for them:
- Night-time coyote hunting with a rifle under natural light is allowed because it's not prohibited by Section 97B.075 (or any other Section). It's generally assumed, but not required, that this is the equivalent of "hunting under a full moon."
- Night-time coyote hunting with a shotgun and hand-held artificial light is allowed according to Section 97B.081.
Please scroll down to see the 2016-2018 updates in chronological order.
Letter to Minnesota Legislators: 3/20/2016.
To: MN House of Representatives, Committee on Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy.
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Cc: Committee staff and bill authors.
Stephanie.Lamphere@house.mn, Claire.Leiter@house.mn, Janelle.Taylor@house.mn, Christopher.Kleman@house.mn, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
- HF 2819 would open up military technology for picking off predators (coyote, fox, lynx, bobcat, and eventually wolf).
- HF 3160 would open it up for picking off everything but "protected wild animals" (mostly coyotes and prairie dogs).
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? Because we hate those dirty prairie dogs?
No, most of us aren't, and we don't. When we're faced with a human/wildlife conflict, what we want is the best solution for it. We're not in the market for 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.
This is what the view through a thermal-imaging scope looks like: screenshot from a promotional video for the "Armasight Zeus Thermal Imaging Weapon Sights for the Sporting, Law Enforcement and Military markets."
This is what the view through a thermal-imaging scope looks like: screenshot from a promotional video for the "ATN ThOR640 Thermal Imaging Weapon Sight - 5x, 640x480, 30Hz"
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.
Meeting video: https://youtu.be/xJ-yW3CGF8g?t=54m56s
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.
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: 3/30/2016.
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.
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).
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.
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
The movement for "shooting in the dark" moved into the visual spectrum in 2018.
On 3/27/2018, the MN House Environment & Natural Resources Policy & Finance Committee met on 3/27/2018 to hear HF 2858, a bill that would allow the hunting of coyotes and foxes at night with rifles and artificial lights.
Meeting video: https://youtu.be/KrpFo1fUw3I?t=12m48s
Supporters of the bill explained that predator hunters want to increase game-bird production by killing more coyotes. They didn't mention the other goals of predator hunters, including operating like amateur snipers (Outdoor Life 2011); competing for cash and prizes (Slocum 2016); and/or, for whatever reasons, enjoying the experience of killing coyotes.
Picture a night-time countryside lit by vehicle-mounted spotlights and the flash of rifles, the air buzzing with ricocheting bullets. Wounded animals evading capture. Immobilized animals dying slowly of their wounds. Bloody carcasses strapped over the frames of trucks and off-road vehicles. Dog owners afraid to go out, or traumatized by the loss of their dogs to night-time shooters (Adreatta 2017, KSHB 2017, R. Schultz 2017).
Given the committee's current political climate (not really open to concepts like ecosystem-based management), the only concerns that were voiced in the hearing against the bill were those of firearms safety and law enforcement.
Concerns that went unspoken included those of all-around environmental conservation, including high-quality habitat, predators, and prey. For example, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) recommends habitat improvement, while leaving predators alone (Hart 2016, Kennamer 2016). Somehow, though, the NWTF chapter president in Marshall, MN doesn't subscribe to that advice, preferring to host coyote-hunting tournaments and testify in support of killing more coyotes.
Proud of his role in setting the committee's political climate, chairman Rep. Dan Fabian wrapped up the bill's hearing, ignoring everything but his support for increasing game-bird production by killing more predators:
"[To the author of 2018 MN HF 2858], I appreciate you 'shining the light on predators.' This is something that we need to really start tackling across the state of Minnesota with regards to these egg-eating and chick-eating machines out there: skunks and raccoons, and in this case coyotes and fox. If we want more ducks, and if we want more pheasants, we're going to have to come to the realization that we have far too many of these other predators. So with that, the bill is laid over, thank you." --Rep. Dan Fabian, 3/27/2018, in support of HF 2858.
MN hunting regulations currently allow night-time hunting of coyotes and foxes using either 1) a rifle and natural lighting (ideally, moonlight on a cover of snow, but that's not mandatory), or 2) a shotgun and "handheld" artificial lighting (apparently to prohibit "shining" with headlights or rack-mounted spotlights of trucks or off-road vehicles).
Predator hunters have been trying to expand night-time shooting. In previous years, they've asked for thermal-imaging and night-vision scopes on rifles. Although they've had the support of certain legislators and committee chairmen who didn't want to follow MN DNR advice on public safety and law enforcement; behind the scenes, reason seems to have prevailed, and they've been held to the regulations.
About omnibus bills.
When the chairman said "this bill is laid over," he meant that he's planning to include it in his "omnibus environment & natural resources policy bill." This, he can do even without a committee vote; with the possible result that the bill could be passed into law without ever facing a single vote--and without any legislator going on record as a supporter. This is common practice at the MN legislature, although it's arguably unconstitutional (Anderson 2010, Davies 2015, D. Schultz 2017).
Adreatta, David. 2017. "Coyote Hunters Shoot Man in Town of Sweden, NY." Democrat & Chronicle, February 20, 2017. http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/02/20/man-shot-coyote-hunters-sweden/98183206/
Anderson, Gordon L. 2010. "The Single-Subject Rule and Omnibus Legislation." Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota (LEA). http://mnlea.org/articles/the-single-subject-rule-and-omnibus-legislation/
Davies, Jack. 2015. "Legislators, Please Stick to One Subject." Star Tribune, August 14, 2015. http://www.startribune.com/legislators-please-stick-to-one-subject/321927701/
Hart, David. 2016. "Coexist with Predators." National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). 2016. http://www.nwtf.org/conservation/article/coexist-predators
Kennamer, James Earl. 2016. "Wild Turkeys and Predators: What's the Real Problem?" National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). 2016. http://www.nwtf.org/conservation/article/wild-turkeys-predators-problem
KSHB. 2017. "Man Mistakes Dog for Coyote; Kills Family Pet in Front of 2 Boys." KSHB News. December 29, 2017. https://www.kshb.com/news/crime/man-mistakes-dog-for-coyote-kills-family-pet-in-front-of-2-boys
Outdoor Life. 2011. Bryce M. Towsley, John B. Snow, John Taranto, Bob Butz, and Brian Downs. "Guns, Gear and Tactics for Coyote Hunting." Outdoor Life, January 26, 2011. https://www.outdoorlife.com/photos/gallery/hunting/predators-small-game/predator-techniques/2011/01/hunt-hunters
Schultz, David. 2017. "Preventing Legislative Mischief with the 'Single-Subject' Rule." Pioneer Press, May 21, 2017. https://www.twincities.com/2017/05/21/david-schultz-preventing-legislative-mischief-with-the-single-subject-rule/
Schultz, Rob. 2017. "Split Verdict for Coyote Hunter Who Shot and Killed 2 Dogs." Wisconsin State Journal, December 20, 2017. http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/courts/split-verdict-for-coyote-hunter-who-shot-and-killed-dogs/article_2c24206f-8230-5ff5-8f4a-074d3937986f.html
Slocum, Scott. 2016. "Hunting Contests." SS-Slocum.info, 2016-2018. http://www.ss-slocum.info/home/WKCs
As Rep. Hansen and Col. Smith pointed out in the 3/27/2018 MN House ENR Committee hearing on HF 2858, an artificial light can allow a hunter to identify a target at 300 yards, but the hunter's high-powered rifle can be deadly quite a bit farther out than that, at distances that aren't illuminated by the artificial light.
As Rep. Becker-Finn pointed out in that same hearing, 1) artificial lights are used by poachers, (2) one of the ways that poachers are caught by law-enforcement officers is through their use of artificial lights, and 3) loosening the regulations on the use of artificial lights would make things easier for poachers, but more difficult for law enforcement.
A hunter in that scenario wouldn't "know his target and what's beyond it."
The bill's nominal author, Rep. Swedzinski, and coyote-hunting contest promoter and weapons-sales representative Ty Brouwer tried to talk around these points, and to confuse them with their own personal desires for hunter convenience and high-volume predator elimination--without, of course, establishing anything other than their own personal desires.
This bill was included in the "omnibus environment and natural resources policy and finance bill" HF 3502 to allow the use of an artificial light with a shotgun (but not a rifle). That at least blunted the bill's threat to public safety.
The environment & natural resources omnibus bill was later bundled into the "omnibus supplemental budget bill" SF 3656. Bundling policy like this into a budget bill is a questionable practice, and it looks like it didn't work out for the legislators who were trying to avoid a vote on this undesirable policy change by slipping it in with necessary government funding.
In other words, the Minnesota rules for night-time fox or coyote hunting with an artificial light remained unchanged.
In summary, from January first through March fifteenth, a hunter in Minnesota on foot and meeting several other requirements may hunt fox or coyote with a shotgun using a handheld artificial light. See the Minnesota Hunting & Trapping Regulations for the details.