No Shooting Within A Quarter-Mile Of A Structure

Nameless Range

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There are over 5 million acres of state trust land in Montana, but did you know you cannot rifle hunt on roughly 167,000 acres of that? A coworker was recently working on a project that made me aware of this rule, so this weekend I explored that fact and a hypothetical and I think the results may surprise folks.

“Administrative Rules of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation prohibit the discharge of firearms on state lands within one-quarter mile of an inhabited dwelling or outbuilding without permission of the inhabitant (DNRC 2012).”

You cannot shoot a firearm on state land within a quarter-mile of an occupied building, without the permission of the occupants. This may be a premise folks dispute, but I think a requirement that an activity require the permission of another individual, is a functional prohibition of that activity. I will concede that I don’t think this rule is enforced that often, but it could be.

The administrative rule that no shooting is allowed within ¼ mile of an inhabited structure may sound reasonable on its face, but I think it is unnecessary, problematic, and has unexplored implications.

In my life in Jefferson County, I have seen subdivisions develop adjacent to public lands, and I have witnessed the conflicts that can arise. Personally, I feel little sympathy for someone who lives next to Our Public Land, whether in a McMansion or shack, and then belly aches about activities that are historically inherent to the existence of those places. Here’s an article in the Independent Record from 2005 highlighting one of those instances. The hunter was responsible, safe, and fully within his rights.

https://helenair.com/…/article_aa707c99-4fd5-5517-ba92-3580…

Additionally, this is an interesting document from FWP on the conflicts between subdivisions and public lands.

http://fwp.mt.gov/fwpDoc.html?id=55372

So, using publicly available datasets, I did some analysis.

I identified all potential “inhabited dwellings” using the statewide structures datasets, querying out structures that wouldn’t typically be inhabited like mine sites, communication tower sites, etc. I buffered them by ¼ mile. Where those ¼ mile buffers overlap State Trust Lands, no rifle hunting is allowed. When calculated out, the circle around one occupied structure with a radius of one-quarter mile is 125 acres. So, if you owned a cabin lease on public land, you could have a fair bit of de facto private hunting land, being you or someone you gave permission to alone would be the only ones who could hunt with a gun within that circle around your cabin.

Now, going to a hypothetical, I explored what this would look like if FWP were to make that rule apply across all public lands. In Arizona, state law prohibits “The discharge of a firearm while taking wildlife within one-fourth mile of an occupied farmhouse or other residence, cabin, lodge, or building without permission of the owner or resident.” What would it mean for rifle hunters in Montana if that rule were to be made? How much land would rifle hunting be prohibited on?

Roughly, if such a rule were implemented across public lands as well, rifle hunting would not be allowed on 55,000 acres of those lands. I was surprised that public lands were less-affected than state trust lands, but it makes sense when you think about how they are laid across the landscape. All told if this were a rule across the entire state, rifle hunting would be prohibited on 220,000 acres of Montana, or 340 sq miles. And that number would only increase with the cancerous growth of subdivisions on the fringes of Our Public Land.


Some images:
-A statewide gander at public lands and all of Montana's structures buffered by 1/4 mile
-A zoomed in view of the Stillwater Lake area. Where red and blue overlap is purple. Where purple, hunting with a firearm is prohibited
-A Higher level view of firearm-prohibited chunks, just to give an idea of how this occurs or would occur across the landscape

All this analysis was quick and dirty, so figures and stats are admittedly rough.

StateWideOwnershipAcreage.jpgStillWaterExample.jpgMissoulaZoomedResize.jpg

I'm interested what folks here think of the rule, or if they've ever had a run-in with it.
 

Sytes

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I wish there was more reasonable analysis used within Local, State, and Federal assessments akin to your research. Always enjoy your data and non politically charged opinions. Often I agree and occasionally I do not though utmost respect.

Very interesting presentation of the 1/4 mile rule and State land. I've run into this in R2, up Nine Mile. This, at the time, was not concerning to me and I felt the 1/4 mile rule was reasonable. Great opportunity for archery hunting.
I've not been in that area in over 10 years. I hope it's not turned into a sub division though who knows... The Zoo has it's own hypocrisy and the Wards (and others) own some large chunks of land bordering the State land.

I've never viewed it with the understanding that those private owners had the ability to consent to rifle... Thus causing a private owner to be a deciding factor for who can/can not rifle hunt our State land. That is disturbing.
 

Pondera

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Hmmm...interesting point. You never fully understand the cumulative effect until you see it graphically reproduced. There is a state section I have hunted that has an adjacent land owner right next to the fence and an inhabited house in one corner...I did a rudimentary drawing based on the 1/4 mile rule on my ONX map to keep us legal. We have had to bump a deer to get in a better position to shoot because of this. Also prohibits us from an awesome pheasant opportunity. Regardless of the rule I am hesitant to touch off a rifle at daybreak much closer than the rule allows anyway. It is a bit awkward hunting someones back yard - we have a few state owned farms in the area that didn't get hunted much before ONX.
 

406LIFE

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@Nameless Range , This is some good info to think on. I've been in situations where I was able to safely shoot, but this law precluded my shot, even though the shot would have been safe. It didn't bug me too much, and as Sytes says, there is always archery. But for the bird guys, I see how this can be frustrating. I don't see this being implemented across the board on public lands, but good to be aware of.

The bigger discussion of how to manage animals in areas where people of built in the urban-rural interface or the WUI is important for us all to be aware. Those who live there probably think they have the priority, not the animals or the public land that is there. Those of us who hunt probably say you shouldn't have moved here. I live next door to a wildlife refuge and during waterfowl season hear shots all the time. What springs to my mind is jealousy, not annoyance, but then I am a duckhunter. My neighbors have gotten used to it and in the closing docs on the house it has a disclaimer about the noise. As more move here and the population grows, I think the priority needs to be on the wildlife and the land. There will always be more people, not more land/animals.

I think its also important for people to clearly know this is only for State School Trust Lands.

@Sytes Ninemile is still decent, but the big sections are falling one by one to subdivisions.
 

Nameless Range

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Common hunting tactics come to mind. It is often cited as a technique to find quality animals on public land, to hunt those places where those public parcels abut private land. Imagine there is a location where, due to topography, vegetation, roads, etc., elk typically funnel or travel from private to public. A land owner could strategically place a shack, or outbuilding associated with another house, and prohibit the hunting of those animals 1,300 feet from the actual border of private land. I know folks here value the backcountry experience that occurs far from development, and so do I, but just imagine a 1,320 foot buffer along all edges of where public meets private. There will be some special places, some productive places, and places where it would be perfectly appropriate to hunt, where rifle hunting would be prohibited.

Now imagine watching some guy shoot an elk on your public lands, in a place you couldn't, simply because he's got a cabin just over the fence. That could happen under the current rules.
 

scubohuntr

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Keep in mind, the restriction is on the discharge of a firearm within 1/4 mile. Not hunting. As long as you are standing outside the 1/4 mile radius, and not shooting directly toward the structure, you are okay. Also okay to hunt through the area as long as you don't shoot within 1/4 mile. You may run into enraged squatters misinterpreting the law, but that's a risk anywhere. Given that there are not likely to be a lot of deer (other than semi-tame does and fawns) in that radius anyway, it is probably not a huge impediment. My personal radius is a lot more than 1/4 mile in most situations, just because I have no interest in shooting a deer in someone's back yard. Definitely don't want to be gutting one under their kids' swingset. It is rough on road hunters, for sure. There are many places I hunt in national forests where the cabins are much less than half a mile apart, so road hunters are out of luck. I really, really hate to see all the cabin sites springing up on public lands, but that is more of a crowding issue than a where I can shoot issue.
 
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375H&H

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Keep in mind, the restriction is on the discharge of a firearm within 1/4 mile. Not hunting. As long as you are standing outside the 1/4 mile radius, and not shooting directly toward the structure, you are okay. You may run into enraged squatters misinterpreting the law, but that's a risk anywhere. Given that there are not likely to be a lot of deer (other than semi-tame does and fawns) in that radius anyway, it is probably not a huge impediment. My personal radius is a lot more than 1/4 mile in most situations, just because I have no interest in shooting a deer in someone's back yard. Definitely don't want to be gutting one under their kids' swingset. It is rough on road hunters, for sure. There are many places I hunt in national forests where the cabins are much less than half a mile apart, so road hunters are out of luck. I really, really hate to see all the cabin sites springing up on public lands, but that is more of a crowding issue than a where I can shoot issue.
Doesn’t discharge of a firearm include wherever the bullet goes?
 

scubohuntr

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A firearm discharges at the muzzle. It's all exterior ballistics from there. It is possible, given some of the ridiculous definitions I have seen in the statutes, that it is defined otherwise in the law, but if so it is incorrect. There are other laws about shooting toward a building, but no responsible hunter would do that anyway.
 

bobbydean

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I started hunting in the late 60's or early 70's. First NMG&F proclamation that I read had this in it. Made sense and never questioned it. Common sense. Thinking back over my hunts for 35 plus years; I cannot think of a shot I had within a quarter mile of a house.
 

PrairieHunter

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I saw a similar law on a game warden TV program used to prosecute a homeowner who was baiting within a certain distance of his house, and likely shooting from very close to his house. In that case it seemed pretty ridiculous as it was private.

How far do you have to be from a structure to shoot a cross bow?
 

Jt13

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PA is a 150 yards with a firearm, 50 yards with a bow or crossbow. If it was a 1/4 mile there would be nowhere left to go! lol
 

Hunting Wife

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There used to be a chunk outside Bozeman that had frequent conflicts over this. There are a few state sections I can think of in Eastern Montana that have some homes either on the state (not sure what mechanism allows that) or right against the boundary. We would advise hunters about this rule if they asked about those parcels but it always surprised me how many people told me I was full of crap and there was no such rule.
 

hank4elk

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NMG&F it is unlawful to...Discharge a firearm within 150 yards of a dwelling or building (not including abandoned or vacated buildings on public land) without permission of owner or lessee.
In CA it was also 150 yards of OCCUPIED building,etc...
I had cabin in Sierra's and I could hunt as soon as I was out the door,when the tract was empty of people. I also hunted heading away from cabins & would never think of shooting back towards cabins without clear line of sight. I was usually the only one around after summer working on my place & the tract water system.

This is from the NM book applying to all lands & I know state lands rules are different...one reason I actually hate hunting on state lands in NM. A pain to find access,a pain to get written permission from lessee, can't park on it of the road,can't camp on it......
The quarter mile rule has always been a benchmark of what to not point a firearm without being aware of your surroundings, my book. My place is about a quarter mile square...
 

Nameless Range

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A HuntTalker recommended I contact someone at FWP about this rule, so I did. I was told this is rarely an issue. My OP is more an analysis of the principal of it, and what could occur if inhabitants wanted to make it so. So though I say in the OP that 155,000ish acres are off limits to the discharge of firearms, it seems that in reality you could "get away" with shooting a gun on most of that. This is an administrative rule of the DNRC, which seems to be somewhat different than commision adopted regulations. I don't fully understand that, but here's a snippet from the response I got from FWP.

"The rule about not being allowed to shoot within ¼ mile of an inhabited dwelling is civil rule 36.25.149 under DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) which the state school trust land administration. I get very few complaints on this, mainly because the landowner of the dwelling may not be aware of the rule or may not care as long as the shots are going away from the building.Even though the general big game rules say that the commission has adopted all the rules in the regulation booklet, it doesn’t mean that these rules can be cited under our Commission Rule and Regulation Statute. Rules that commission has made can be used under this statute, like someone shooting a spike bull elk in a brow tine bull only area. So if there was a citation issued for shooting with ¼ mile of an occupied building, and a citation was issued, it should be a civil citation from the DNRC citation book"
 
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wllm1313

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Honestly I think it's a good rule, unfortunately you have to legislate for the lowest common denominator of people. On the whole I think without the rule there would be more instances of knuckleheads shooting deer, 50 yards outside city limits and 25 feet from someones bedroom window then there are hunters that are hamstrung by the current law.

Would love to be able to legally enjoy a beer driving down a dirt road after a long hike... but no reasonable person is going to advocate for allowing drinking and driving.

You can always pick up a bow, or for bird hunters knock on a door and ask permission. I think practicing good behavior on state land is in the best interest of all sportsman, I can easily see a scenario where the laws is removed, a few bad actors play fast and loose, and the public calls for a hunting ban on all state land.

As much as people like to think otherwise hunting and firearm ownership are a privilege granted to us by our society. We live in a democracy, sure there is a 2A, but the there was also an 18th amendment. We are the minority, and it's in our interest to self police as not to piss off the majority.
 
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Sytes

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Interesting response. I believe a civil case of that nature would be a pain for the private owner. What are the damages if nothing impacted the private owners property? The noise? Then to establish a person fired a rifle within that 1/4 mile range area would be a challenge in itself... Legal fees, etc. Then again, only need 2/3rd jury and preponderance of evidence to award the plaintiff... Seems understandable why little, if anything, has been done about such potential cases. Would be interesting to read a civil attorney's take on this, more for schnitz and grins than anything.

Make it legal for birdshot and archery only within those quarter mile areas. Eliminate a private landowner's authority to determin who can and cannot hunt with a rifle on State Trust land within a quarter mile area of a boundry bordering private, inhabited property.

It is interesting, the topics brought up here... They frequently open up a world of education for those who enjoy reading further. In this brief discussion raised by Nameless, I've learned that shit ton about school trust land. The versatile functions and the main emphasis to raise capital for education. Pretty amazing!

Cheers Nameless. Always enjoy your posts.
 

Nameless Range

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Make it legal for birdshot and archery only within those quarter mile areas. Eliminate a private landowner's authority to determin who can and cannot hunt with a rifle on State Trust land within a quarter mile area of a boundry bordering private, inhabited property.
This is my chief gripe, and I could reluctantly get on board otherwise because state land is not public land.
 
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