Dennis Anderson
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How exactly people in this country vented their exasperations before the advent of online commentary isn’t clear. Time was when a person read a newspaper, and regardless of their opinion of the scribblings, shrugged and said, “Huh.” Or maybe in the extreme they handed the paper across the dinner table and said, “Get a load of this.”

Now, obviously, given the internet’s reach, everyone’s points and counterpoints receive a much more complete airing. Which perhaps is fair. Notwithstanding the low accuracy bar set for these vexations, many of which are real whoppers, and never mind as well the cloak of anonymity from which they emerge, a greater societal good might be served.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once said, “Debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and … may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks. …”

Again, fair enough. But given available facts, some things should be beyond debate. The sun rises in the east, for instance. Neil Armstrong’ moon walk wasn’t staged in a TV studio. And there wasn’t a second shooter on the grassy knoll.

Also this: Hunters don’t hunt drunk.

A bold statement, I know. And a surprise bulletin, perhaps, to some readers who commented on a story published last week in this newspaper about a new Wisconsin law that removes the minimum age for deer hunting in that state.

Wisconsin legislators decided parents, not the government, should determine when little Susie or little Johnnie is ready to shinny up a tree and waylay a whitetail.

Of the 59 commenters who penned opinions to the online version of that tale, some added value to the discussion.

“Having younger kids hunt is fine, but it won’t help all that much with new hunter recruitment,” said one. “The larger issue with recruitment is that young people have so many more choices to occupy their time.”

But it wasn’t long before the old Booze, Bucks and Guns fairy tale was trotted out.

“I live in Wisconsin now in a popular destination for deer hunters,” one commenter said. “I walk the woods frequently with my dog and come across hunters often. Frankly for most hunters it’s an excuse to party. Rifle in one hand and a bottle, flask or a beer in the other. These guys are supposed to (be) mentoring young hunters? Who’s going to mentor them? Tired of cleaning up beer cans over the years. Sometimes a dozen or more below a deer stand occupied by one person.”

Wrote another: “It is too bad a lot drink and hunt, I agree. A lot of dumb people drink and do things they shouldn’t.”

Over the years, these and similar contentions have been aired so regularly they now seem part of the folklore that surrounds hunting, particularly deer hunting. In Minnesota as well as Wisconsin.

So, let’s separate myth from fact.

First, what’s the law?

In Minnesota, it’s a gross misdemeanor to hunt with a bow or gun while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Nor can a gun or bow be loaned or given to someone under the influence. Simply possessing a loaded and uncased firearm or bow while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal.

Additionally, if a hunter’s blood alcohol concentration is .08 percent or higher, some ramifications for the offending hunter might be the same as if he or she were under the influence while driving a vehicle or, in Minnesota, a boat. Meaning possible jail time and increased vehicle and other insurance costs.

Hunters under the influence in Minnesota also can and likely will have their guns or bows confiscated and possibly other equipment as well, including boats and ATVs.

And if they’re caught killing an animal under the influence, cash restitution would be owed the state for the animal. What’s more, a convicted hunter (actually “poacher’’) would lose his privilege to hunt for five years in Minnesota, Wisconsin and nearly all other states.

Next question:

How often do Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers cite hunters for being drunk or high — keeping in mind the agency’s more than 140 field agents make multiple thousands of hunter contacts each year?

And keeping in mind Minnesota has more than 600,000 hunters.

“Almost never,” said DNR enforcement division assistant director Lt. Col. Greg Salo. “It’s very rare. We go some years with no citations of hunters under the influence. Other years we average between two and four.”

Hunters aren’t saints. They probably break the law in the same proportion to their numbers that the overall population does. And many who are of age aren’t averse to imbibing a cocktail or beer come evening, around a campfire or at a dinner table.

But imagining that hunters in any number guzzle beer or booze while afield is as far-fetched as imagining runners taking a long hit of Old Grand-Dad at the midway point of a marathon.

Both exercises are too physically demanding for participants to indulge such silliness.

That said, Justice Brennan had it right. Debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.

So, comment away.

Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424