Court rules deer hunters can use semi-automatic rifles

DOVER — Deer hunters in Delaware can now hunt with semi-automatic rifles, according to a ruling in Superior Court on Nov. 18.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association on Nov. 1, claimed the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control had “unlawfully restricted deer hunters from using certain firearms otherwise permitted under Delaware law, ” according to the Court.

Superior Court Judge Noel Eason Primos issued the 22-page order, concluding that, “The language in the 2019/20 Hunting Guide limiting pistol-caliber rifles used in deer hunting to those that are ‘manually operated, consisting of: lever action, bolt action, pump action, single shot, and revolver rifles,’ and to those chambered for ammunition for which there is ‘a commercially produced handgun available … chambered for [the same ammunition,’ exceeded DNREC’s authority …”

The issue stemmed from a 2018 change in state law that allowed certain rifles for deer hunting, the Associated Press reported. DNREC’s hunting guide had left out semi-automatic rifles among the guns the deer hunters can use. DSSA argued that DNREC had exceeded its authority with the exclusion.

DNREC issued a response through spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie that read:

“We updated the online version of the 2020-21 Hunting Guide to comply with the court’s order. DNREC is disappointed by the decision and is evaluating its options.”

Prior to 2018, the state allowed handguns but not rifles to hunt deer, according to stipulated facts.

In 2018, Delaware Code was amended “to allow pistol-caliber rifles to be used for deer hunting as well with limitations on the types of sights, ammunition and the number of cartridges allowed to be used therewith.

“The amendment also updated requirements for handguns used for deer hunting and clarified that a handgun or rifle could be used during shotgun deer season.”

The order said that DNREC had argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring it to court and that it:

• Did not violate the Constitution because it is permitted as an agency to interpret the statute it administers.

• Did not exceed its statutory powers because it as broad authority to protect, manage, and conserve Delaware’s protected wild life, including deer.

• The language of the hunting guide is not a regulation subject to the Delaware Administrative Procedures Act because it was created pursuant to a statutory directive.

DSSA is affiliated with the National Rifle Association.