Making the Rules

On a cold night in January what could be better than attending a public meeting on deer hunting? The Department of Conservation was holding the meeting to discuss potential deer regulation changes. As you would expect, the room in Piedmont was packed with a mix of deer hunters and onlookers.

A gentleman in a co-op cap and blue bibs sat quietly in the second row through more than two hours of dialogue. Finally he raised his hand. “Why can’t you use a .410 shotgun with a slug to hunt deer? You let people use a .40 caliber muzzleloader, and the 410 is a .41 caliber.”

I had heard a lot of ideas for change that evening. Some were just not feasible, some would require a lot of thought, discussions and number crunching, but this one was nothing but logical. The only reason a .410 slug was not allowed, I had to admit to him, was because nobody had thought to ask us to make it legal.

For most of my 30 years with the Department of Conservation I have been tied in one way or another to the process of setting hunting regulations. First, I was a biologist making hunting season recommendations, then for many years I was a supervisor of the biologists that made hunting season recommendations.

Our authority for enacting regulations is the foundation of the constitutional mandate that Missourians passed in 1936. That constitutional mandate formed a Conservation Commission and gave them the charge of “protecting and managing the fish, forests and wildlife of the state.” The Conservation Commission has always fulfilled this charge with the utmost seriousness.

And, any time the Commission limits personal choice through regulations they require good—no, very good—reasoning.

The logic and reasoning behind regulations usually fall into three categories.

Biological: Is a regulation needed to help manage the population?

An example would be daily or season harvest limits, or it could be a prohibition on harvest, such as the regulation we have protecting prairie chickens and other species of conservation concern.

Social: Would society find the action acceptable or necessary, and would hunters accept the regulation?

A cornerstone of conservation is the recognition that we must balance the needs of people and the needs of nature. The regulation allowing landowners and homeowners to protect their property from damage by wildlife is an example of blending these needs.

Another example of the role of social considerations in developing regulations is the “4-point rule” put in