Published June 07, 2011, 05:57 AM

New legalization of air guns poses a test for hunting ethics

PIERRE — The Legislature gave the state Game, Fish and Parks Department what it wanted this year, when lawmakers legalized the use of air guns in South Dakota to hunt cottontail rabbits, squirrels and any predator or varmint.

By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic

PIERRE — The Legislature gave the state Game, Fish and Parks Department what it wanted this year, when lawmakers legalized the use of air guns in South Dakota to hunt cottontail rabbits, squirrels and any predator or varmint.

The issue now is how to ensure that hunters use air guns and pellets that are sufficiently powerful to make a clean kill on anything from a gopher to a coyote.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission adopted regulations last week that will be more stringent than those proposed by the state Wildlife Division, but aren’t as complex as the standards recommended by the South Dakota Hunter Education Instructor Association.

The Legislature’s rules review committee will decide later this summer whether to give final clearance.

The safety instructor association’s president, Ron Kolbeck, of Salem, wanted the commission to adopt standards based on foot-pounds of energy necessary to accomplish kills of specific species.

Under that approach, an air gun capable of delivering 12 foot-pounds would be the minimum that could be used for squirrels or rabbits, while someone hunting coyotes would need an air gun capable of at least 150.

Those standards would be difficult for GFP conservation officers to enforce in the field, however.

Instead, former GFP Secretary John Cooper, of Pierre, now a commission member, successfully strengthened the rules proposal so that air guns must have minimum power to propel a pellet at a muzzle velocity of at least 1,000 feet per second.

The Wildlife Division proposal called for 750.

Cooper also added a provision suggested by the safety instructors that hunters must use pellets specifically designed and labeled by manufacturers for hunting rather than target pellets.

He said the rules can be reviewed next year after the first season that air guns can be used.

Commissioner Mike Authier, of Vivian, said it was unlikely anyone would wound a coyote with an air gun.

“I just think we’re getting over-regulated here, worrying about something that’s not even an issue,” Authier said.

Wildlife Division Director Tony Leif, who lobbied the Legislature in favor of legalization, didn’t speak against Cooper’s changes.

“I think the question is, do we educate or regulate?” he said.

Leif acknowledged air guns aren’t as powerful as standard rifles or shotguns. Air guns typically range in caliber from .17 to .25, with .17 and .22 being the most common.

Kolbeck said the safety instructors association is committed to promoting hunting by any legal means, as long as it’s done in a safe, effective and ethical manner. He said the association will develop a core curriculum to achieve that goal.

Tags: