Since the Dispatch reported that Babe Winkelman had been cited for using two-way radios to hunt deer we've received letters, phone calls and inquiries about the issue. Some people are outraged by Babe's actions. Others say it was no big deal. A third group, probably the largest, didn't know there was a law prohibiting the use of two-way radios to hunt deer.
We called Craig Backer, DNR northeast region supervisor of conservation officers, and asked him to clarify the issue. He referred us to a Web site, www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/stats, where we found the following:
97B.085 Use of radios to take animals
Subdivision 1. Radio use in taking game prohibited. A person may not use radio equipment to take big game or small game.
Subd. 2. Taking unprotected wild animals; permit required. A person may not use radio equipment to take unprotected wild animals without a permit. The commissioner may issue a permit to take unprotected animals with radio equipment. The commissioner shall cancel the permit upon receiving a valid complaint of misconduct regarding the permitees hunting activities.
Legal use in deer hunting
A two-way radio may be used to inform party members of your location, your movements or for any other chatter that doesn't involve the movement of deer.
Subd. 3. Communication excepted. This section does not prohibit the use of one-way radio communication between a handler and a dog.
These statutes apply to cellular phones as well because they operate on radio signals. Subdivision 3 was added because shock collars used to train dogs operate on radio signals.
Many people use the provision in Subdivision 2 to hunt coyotes with two-way radios, Backer said, as coyotes are unprotected. But he's seen other uses, too.
"I once issued a permit to use radios to hunt red squirrels. They were selling the tails to lure manufacturers. But far and away the largest number of these permits go to coyote hunters."
Gray areas exist throughout these laws. Backer pointed to one that's tripped up more than one unwitting hunter.
"Say you and your buddy are using radios to hunt coyotes. While doing so you see a red fox. Well, you can't use your radio to take that fox because they're protected."
There's more. Say you have a spinning wing duck decoy that can be turned on with a radio signal. It's illegal to use that decoy. But it is legal to use a spinning-wing decoy that's turned on with a switch on the decoy itself.
How can you legally use two-way radios while deer hunting? To inform party members of your location, your movements or for any other chatter that doesn't involve the movement of deer. You can't call your pal and say, "Hey, a deer just went by me and is heading your way," or anything similar.
Hunters have developed codes to circumvent the law, Backer said.
"Something like, 'I'm out of coffee' could actually mean something else. We saw a lot of that back in the heydays of the CB radio. It can be very difficult to break a code system if it isn't blatant. It might take several seasons, but if we suspect something we absolutely will pursue it."
Two-way radios can increase hunter efficiency, especially when parties make drives for deer, Backer said. Other harvest issues come into play.
"If I'm fishing one line like I'm supposed to and you have three lines out, you have a distinct advantage over me. The table is supposed to be level, and people who use two-way radios aren't playing on a level table."
When asked about the Winkelman situation, Backer said, "I won't make a judgment call on that one because I wasn't there. But our officers are very careful about when and how they apply this law. We want to remain respectful of the safety and information needs of the public. In no way is the department against the use of two-way radios for safety or for communicating your whereabouts to other members of your party.
"One last thing: two-way radios have been a boon to our business. People use them to report game violations. We encourage that."
VINCE MEYER, outdoors editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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