Defined as the distance from an occupied dwelling, public road, or city limits that is required to legally discharge a bow or firearm, legal discharge distances vary tremendously from state to state. Often enacted due to unfounded safety concerns, arbitrary and unnecessarily large discharge distances pose negatively impact hunter access in suburban and exurban areas. Overly restrictive discharge distances not only impact the ability of state fish and wildlife agencies to rely on hunters to manage localized overabundant wildlife populations, but may also negatively impact hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation as well.
The distance from an occupied dwelling, public road, or city limits that is required to legally discharge a bow or firearm, varies tremendously from state to state. Originally enacted as a result of unfounded safety concerns, many states have implemented state-wide rules, while others leave such decisions to local or municipal governments. For the states and municipalities that do have such restrictions, the firearm discharge distances range from 100 feet to 1,320 feet (1/4 mile), with the most common distance being 500 feet. The discharge restrictions applicable to archery tend to be shorter, ranging from 100 feet to 660 feet. Throughout recent years there have been numerous legislative and regulatory attempts made to both shorten and lengthen these restrictions for both firearms and archery equipment.
Arbitrary and unnecessarily large discharge distances, particularly for archery hunting, pose a serious barrier to hunter access in suburban and exurban areas where localized issues with overabundant wildlife populations are most apt to occur. These restrictions negatively impact the ability of state fish and wildlife agencies to rely on hunting (widely considered the most efficient and effective wildlife management tool) to deal with these localized issues and curb the high costs of damage to automobiles, crops, and private property that they create. Damage estimates from overpopulated deer alone have been reported to exceed $4.4 billion annually, with most of these costs being driven by deer-vehicle collisions.
Not only do these restrictions impact the ability of hunters to help resolve localized issues stemming from overabundant wildlife, but they potentially may negatively impact hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts. Other than lack of interest and time, which aren’t influenced by policy decisions, lack of access is the most prevalent reason for which sportsmen and women stop participating in hunting. Therefore, reducing or eliminating these discharge distance restrictions, where feasible, will help encourage participation in hunting, and will also provide increased state-level conservation funding through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Points of Interest
- The discharge distance for both firearms and archery equipment in New York was set at 500 feet in 1957. Provisions to the state’s budget in 2014 lowered the discharge distance for bows to 150 feet, and crossbows to 250 feet, significantly expanding access for archery hunters.
- “Safe zones” extending 500 feet from an occupied dwelling encompass 18.02 acres of land in which hunting then becomes prohibited without landowner permission. However, a circle with a 150-foot radius only closes off access to 1.62 acres of land.
- Arizona has opened up 1.86 million acres to hunt with firearms after passing Senate Bill 1334, which transferred the authority to regulate the take of wildlife from municipalities and counties to the Commission, thereby eliminating previous discharge restrictions that were in place.
- According to a recent report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, hunting with firearms is one of the safest activities in America, with billiards being the only sport holding a lower rate of injury.
- In 2019, SB 443 was introduced in Massachusetts, which sought to ban the discharge of firearms by waterfowl hunters within 1,000 feet of the coastline when hunting from a watercraft. This bill represents one of the most egregious attempts to restrict hunting access by use of discharge distance restrictions in recent years.
- Introduced in 2020 and having since died in the House, New Hampshire’s HB 1115 would have increased the current firearms discharge distance of 300-ft. to 900-ft. around nonresidential, commercial buildings, eliminating hunting access for 58 acres around each building.
Increased access as a result of reduced discharge distance restrictions will not only provide state fish and wildlife agencies with more management flexibility for localized wildlife concerns, but will also potentially increase hunting participation, thereby providing more money to state-level conservation efforts through the American System of Conservation Funding. State policymakers are encouraged to carefully evaluate present restrictions on discharge distances and to work to reduce or eliminate unnecessarily large or arbitrary restrictions where they exist.
For more information on this issue please contact: Brent Miller (202) 543-6850 x13; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?Vote Here
- Increase the number of states with discounted license tailored to specific groups. (3.25%)
- Increase access to public lands. (29.24%)
- Provide more information for new participants. (3.25%)
- Provide hands on opportunities to improve skills and knowledge. (13.72%)
- Engage youth through hunter and conservation programs in schools. (43.68%)
- I feel we have enough sportsmen and women and do not believe R3 programs are necessary. (6.86%)