PHOENIX – Armed with shotguns and high hopes, thousands of hunters began heading to Arizona’s open spaces Thursday for early dove-hunting season.
And some of them may be heading to open spaces within your city or town.
A law that took effect in July and is getting its first tryout allows hunting on nearly 1 million acres of open, undeveloped and uninhabited tracts in incorporated areas.
“It’s good for hunters and it’s good for kids that aren’t able to travel long distances,” said state Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, the law’s author.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department, which under the law will regulate hunting within municipalities, recently alerted property owners that they may wish to post “No Trespassing” signs if they don’t want hunters there.
“Our department’s taken a really thoughtful approach in trying to develop this in a safe way, where it will still allow people to connect with nature and hunting close to home,” said Craig McMullen, the wildlife recreation branch chief for Game and Fish.
The law allows individuals to shoot guns within or into city or town limits if they are hunting lawfully, although under a previously established law hunters may not fire within a quarter of a mile of inhabited structures.
The measure prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances or rules limiting hunting during an open season established by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
It also limits hunting on private land to those using bows and arrows or shotgun shooting shot and closes densely populated areas, designated as “metro zones,” throughout the state. This includes three zones in Phoenix and one each in Flagstaff and Tucson.
With safety in mind, Game and Fish closed seasons for general hunts, like those for deer and elk in which long-range rifles are used, on private land within city limits.
“We did this for a reason,” McMullen said. “We wanted to make sure that we are sending a message to our hunters – if you are going to be using those sorts of weapon types, you’ve got to get yourself out of town, be on state trust lands, public lands, in order to do so.”
Antenori said he introduced the legislation because Arizona cities were annexing and closing large areas that were previously open to hunting.
“It’s not the cities’ land,” Antenori said. “They can’t control private land.”
Democratic state Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson, a longtime hunter who voted against the measure, said the law impinges on local authority.
“The state should be helping the locals, not harming local decision-making,” he said.
Dale Wiebusch, legislative associate with the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, said the group hasn’t received any complaints about the law to date.
In the city of Buckeye, where large tracts of recently annexed land are prime locations for hunters, Mayor Jackie A. Meck said Game and Fish officials have conducted sessions to help police prepare for the law.
“Historically, the Game and Fish and Buckeye have always cooperated very well together,” Meck said.
– Prohibits political subdivisions from limiting the lawful hunting of wildlife during an open season, as established by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
– Prohibits a political subdivision from enacting an ordinance, rule or regulation that limits hunting wildlife during an open season unless the ordinance, rule or regulation is consistent with the state’s hunting laws and Game and Fish Commission rules and orders.
– Specifies that cities, towns or counties aren’t prohibited from restricting the discharge of a firearm within a quarter of a mile from an occupied structure.
Brandon Quester is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.