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Fort Smith
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Shooting Straight- Alternative firearms season opens new options for Arkansas deer hunters


Among the dozens of regulations changes passed at the May 16 Arkansas Game and Fish Commission meeting in El Dorado, one stood head and shoulders above the rest in creating the most chatter among the state’s deer hunting community. Arkansas hunters will now be able to use non-semiautomatic firearms that shoot straight-wall metallic cartridges of .30 caliber or larger during Arkansas’s muzzleloader season. The same firearms also will be legal during modern gun season in Deer Zones 4 and 5, which traditionally only allowed muzzleloaders and shotguns firing slugs.

Although similar regulations have been in place in other states, it’s always good to run through a refresher of the regulation to help people stay legal in case they want to dust off an old firearm that has been a safe queen for the last decade or are interested in purchasing a new gun and ammunition to take advantage of the new opportunity. More than one sporting goods store has already contacted the AGFC asking which rifles and cartridges they should order in preparation for the new alternative firearms season opener (set for Oct. 19).

Scrap the Scattergun
The first thing to note about the new regulation is that shotguns firing slugs, while legal during modern gun season, will not be allowed during the alternative weapons season. All cartridges used during the alternative weapons season must be metallic cartridges. 

Hunters in Zones 4 and 5 will still be able to use shotguns like before, but during the new alternative firearms season, they won’t be allowed. Zones 4 and 5 still will not have an open alternative firearms season, so the difference shouldn’t cause any issues with a hunter from these zones bringing the wrong gun to the hunt.

A few questions have already come in through the AGFC’s phone lines asking if a shotgun modified with a rifled barrel and converted to be essentially a “slug gun” will be allowed during the alternative firearms season. The straightforward answer is “no.” The hunt is not intended to allow slug guns, and the shotgun shell holding the slug does not fit the definition of a metallic cartridge. 

Straight Talk
A flood of questions have come in during the last few weeks about what cartridges are considered straight wall. 

“Is a .30-30 allowed? What about .35 Whelen?”

These rounds may be allowed in other states, but for Arkansas’s alternative firearms season or modern gun season in Zones 4 and 5, they’re straight out. 

“If you look at the profile of the cartridge’s case, both of those rounds have a shoulder where the brass is necked down to accommodate a bullet diameter that’s smaller than the base of the case,” Lt. Col. Jake Dunn of the AGFC’s Enforcement Division said. “Any shoulder in the brass case will disqualify it as an option for any straight-wall requirement in Arkansas. Indentations in some straight-wall cartridge cases near the base where the primer is found (called extractor grooves) are legal, however.”

No Auto
A surge of straight-wall semiautos have hit the market since traditional “shotgun only” states adopted straight-wall rifles as legal during their deer seasons. These are good firearms to hunt deer with during Arkansas’s modern gun season in most of the state, but they will not be allowed during the new alternative firearms season, nor will they be allowed in Deer Zones 4 and 5 during those modern gun hunts. 

“There are some AR-style platforms that are actually bolt-actions, and we’ve heard about some drop-in conversion kits available that change some automatic rifles to bolt-actions,” Dunn said. “Those would be legal according to the code.”

Ol’ Betsy
If your hunting budget won’t fit a new firearm into this season’s purchases, don’t sweat it. You can still dance with the one you’ve been bringing the last few seasons. Muzzleloaders meeting Arkansas’s traditional regulations may still be used during the hunt. Many hunters have invested a lot of time, energy and money into working up their perfect black-powder load for deer, and many modern muzzleloaders are fully capable of ethically taking whitetails within 150 yards with a well-placed shot. Considering most deer harvested in Arkansas are well within 100 yards of the hunter, the old smokepole is still big medicine for any deer walking the woods of The Natural State. 

Front-stuffers must have barrels 19 inches or longer and must be .40 caliber or larger. Scopes and other magnifying sights may also be used.

A few questions also have trickled in regarding the use of handguns that fit the definition of straight-wall cartridges. Non-semiautomatic handguns (including revolvers and single-shots) chambered for straight-wall cartridges of at least .30 caliber will be legal during the alternative firearms hunting season. Hunters opting for handguns should note that all cartridge-firing handguns must have a barrel at least 4 inches long to be legal for deer hunting. Muzzleloading handguns with barrels at least 9 inches may also be used as long as they shoot conical bullets of .45 caliber or larger or round balls of .530 caliber or larger. 

Just as with any firearm, hunters should use good judgment in cartridge selection. A few underpowered cartridges may technically fit the definition to be a legal handgun during the alternative hunt as well as the modern gun hunt, but they may not provide a fast, ethical harvest. Larger, magnum cartridges, such as .357 Magnum, .44 Remington Magnum and ethical shot distances within 50 yards are highly recommended. Handgun hunters also should make sure the bullets in those cartridges are soft points or hollow points instead of full-metal jacket ammunition (which is illegal).

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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