Delaware deer hunters shut out on semi-auto rifles

New legislation had Delaware sportsmen expecting more options but conservation officials are adamant that semi-autos are not part of the list.

This session, state lawmakers approved a number of deer hunting expansions, including a bill to bring more hunting on Sundays and a technical adjustment to allow a pistol caliber rifle to be used for deer hunting during shotgun season.

This had some– such as those who wanted to hunt with such rounds as the popular .450 Bushmaster out of an AR-platform– excited. However, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control last week poured cold water on that idea by announcing that only manually-operated rifles may be used such as lever-action, bolt-action, pump-action, single shot and revolver rifles. In other words, everything but a semi-auto.

Lawmakers who backed the new law say the agency is off base in their assessment.

“Based on the law that was passed and signed by the Governor, there were hunters that went out and purchased some of these semi-automatic rifles for deer hunting and now if they’re out there hunting with those and they’re stopped by fish and wildlife enforcement, then they could be cited for losing a firearm that legally it does not prohibit them from using,” state Sen.Brian Pettyjohn told Delaware 105.9.

While Pettyjohn argues DNREC didn’t follow the mandated transparent process for interpreting the law, such as holding public meetings seeking input, state officials hold that the new statute just didn’t address semi-autos.

“The Department has interpreted the law to follow the intent of the legislation, to provide a limited additional tool to help with deer management,” said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti. “If the General Assembly wants to add semi-automatic rifles to the list of permissible weapons, they would need to take action that specifically legislates that intent.”

The Delaware Sportsmen’s Association, who backed the rule change, argues the interpretation by conservation officials goes too far.

“They’re setting a dangerous precedent for future activities,” said Jeff Hague, the group’s president.

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