Rifle: (noun) – a firearm, usually hand-held and fired from shoulder level, having a long spirally grooved barrel intended to make a single-projectile bullet spin in flight, thereby increasing its ballistic stability and accuracy over a long distance.
Shotgun: (noun) – a firearm, usually hand-held and fired from shoulder level, having a long smooth bore barrel, that fires a charge of small bird shot, large buck shot, or a single slug at short range.
Rifled deer barrel shotgun: (compound noun) – a rifle disguised as a shotgun to comply with the convoluted deer hunting regulations developed by state legislatures and regulatory agencies.
– Definitions from North Country Dictionary of Essential Outdoor Vocabulary (Unpublished)
The 12 gauge .45-70 rifle
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck, flies like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
If it looks like a rifle, operates like a rifle, has sights like a rifle, shoots bullets like a rifle, and has the ballistic properties of a rifle, it’s a rifle. Unless the hunting regulations of the Department of Natural Resources say it is a shotgun.
Show me a firearm with a rifled barrel and a 2-7x33mm telescopic sight, a shoulder-fired weapon that shoots a single .45-inch diameter conical projectile weighing 385 grains at 1,800 feet per second, and I will tell you it is a .45 caliber rifle. The engraving on the chamber and receiver may say it is a 12 gauge Remington Model 870 shotgun, but it is in fact a rifle.
The ballistics of the bullets fired by that “rifle-barrel shotgun” are identical to those of a .45-70 Government round fired from a Marlin Model 1895 lever-action, which the DNR defines as a rifle and prohibits deer hunters from using in my part of the state. To further muddy the waters, a hunter can use a handgun to hunt deer during firearm season, for example a Thompson/Center single shot pistol in .45-70 caliber with a 14-inch barrel and a scope. If he would chamber that exact same .45-70 round in a Harrington & Richardson single-shot rifle with an 18-inch barrel and open sights, and he would be in violation of the law. Go figure.
My nit-picking complaints are not, however, an argument for loosening regulations to allow the use of a wider array of rifles by the soldiers of what I call the Orange Army of Autumn. The reasoning behind the complicated DNR definition of what constitutes a shotgun and what constitutes a rifle is based, as I understand it, on the assumption that we rural residents will be safer during deer hunting season if the Orange Army troops are not spraying the countryside with high velocity, long-ranging bullets in calibers such as .30-06, .308, 7mm, .270, .243 and other “open country” deer rifles.
The DNR may be wiser than I credit. Each fall, hearing the fusillades of shots fired at running deer by some platoons of the Orange Army here in the North Country, and remembering the torrents of fire from semi-automatic rifles wielded by bands of run-and-gun coyote hunters in Nebraska, I can imagine that this rural, agrarian county on several autumn days would mimic the sounds of television news reports of street battles in Middle Eastern cities.
As much as I want to trust the safe behavior and common sense of deer hunters in my part of the country, I have witnessed too many careless and reckless acts to advocate more firepower. And looking over the gun store racks packed with those increasingly popular assault rifle-style weapons with twenty-round magazines, I fear the increasingly clueless “hunters” who arm themselves with these military small arms would rapid-fire volleys of bullets at deer on skylines, stray projectiles that fly on for hundreds of yards and pose grave danger to life and limb.
So I read the DNR firearms regulations not to be overly critical but to be entertained by the language. With the exception of a few obscure Russian novels, no literature can match the complexity and confusion of the deer hunting rules for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa or any of the dozen Midwest farm states. A blend of legal-ese and administrative jargon, the regs are full of contradictory wording that plagiarizes old “Monty Python” comedy skits about petty government bureaucrats. This stuff must have been written by the same people who created the arcane screenplay for the movie “Cloud Atlas,” or perhaps by a team that analyzes obscure linguistic phrases for the CIA.
It’s sort of like unraveling a code or cipher. Although college educated, I am, like most deer hunters, not a candidate for Phi Beta Kappa or Mensa, so after three or four readings of certain sections I have still not solved the acrostic riddle.
Fortunately, I can stand aloof from the confusion because my deer hunting is mostly limited to archery and muzzle-loader rifle seasons, and virtually all of it is on my own property. I may misunderstand some of the regulations but I am unlikely to violate any of them
Do not slander the DNR, deer hunters, because we have to blame ourselves for this mish-mash of rules and regulations. The Orange Armies conduct their fall maneuvers, equipped with military weapons, vehicles, cell phones, GPS units, binoculars, thermal clothing, and other gear. This introduction of evermore advanced technology into the hunt has pushed the concept of “fair chase” to the limit. We do not really hunt deer anymore; we “harvest” them.
So we may as well use the “rifle barrel shotgun.” There are plenty of deer out there, and if it’s not hunting, at least it is outdoor recreation.