Amidst all the fuss over Colorado's groundbreaking new gun legislation, one component has become abundantly clear within the sportsmen's community. There's no shortage of misinformation going around on the impacts these new laws will have on hunters.
"The bills were just signed (Wednesday). We, like everybody else, are saying, 'Now what does this mean? What are the practical applications in these specific situations?' " said Randy Hampton, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "What we do know is that our regulations aren't going to have to change. For the most part, we don't expect this will have a regulatory impact on the agency."
CPW, like the rest of us, is still awaiting interpretation from the state attorney general's office on some of the technical questions hunters may have. There is no firm timeline, however, and since the laws don't take effect until July 1 and won't change hunting regulations, it remains to be seen how quickly those interpretations will be made.
But here's what we do know. From the hunting perspective, potential scenarios boil down to two fronts: big game hunting and everything else.
"With big game hunting, we have had since the mid-'70s a provision in our big game regulations that did not allow for the use of any magazine that would hold over six rounds," Hampton said. "So in terms of big game regulations, the new law on magazine limits does not affect big game hunting at all. If someone has used a legal big game firearm from the mid-'70s up to now, that rifle will still be legal. Even before the new law, the magazine had to be limited.
"When you get outside of big game, that leads to some challenges. We've heard from some people that say, 'I use my AR-15 to hunt coyotes and a 30-round magazine is what I carry.' Obviously there's potential impact there to those people. But there's nothing in our regulations that needs to change in that regard. Our regulations for hunting varmints say you can use any legal firearm."
At the risk of contributing to the misinformation clutter, I'm going to take a stab at some common sense interpretation. Existing 30-round magazines owned by hunters (and others) have been grandfathered into the new law. As long as you don't start your collection after the month of June, those magazines should remain within the "legal firearms" interpretation. Come July, the law limits new magazines to 15 rounds.
"The other area where there has been some discussion was in shotguns," Hampton added. "Most bird and small game seasons include a regulation requiring shotguns to be plugged anyway, holding only up to three rounds. The exception is during light goose conservation order season, when that restriction is lifted."
The new law allows for shotgun magazines capable of holding shells with a combined length of 28 inches. As Hampton points out, there's a practicality issue at play here too. Once a magazine gets too long it impairs a hunter's ability to aim, or even carry, a shotgun. It's also important to note that just because a gun is capable of accepting a larger magazine, that doesn't make it illegal. The law bans magazines that can be converted, not the gun itself.
And with legal exclusions for hunting, shooting ranges and state-sponsored events that include hunting and shooting, no one is going to be conducting background checks in the woods.
Hampton admits some murky areas remain, as with almost any new law. But hunters should bear in mind that state wildlife officers are not the gun police.
As long as sportsmen are obeying existing hunting regulations, they shouldn't be concerned about conflict.
"We're going to make sure we get questions from hunters answered, but I think some of this is just a vehicle by some people to raise the issue. Our job is to regulate hunting, not the firearms," Hampton said. "The first time this is going to come up is after July 1. Meanwhile, we're asking the same kinds of questions. Hopefully by then we have some answers."
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993 or firstname.lastname@example.org