UPDATE 11-4-2017: An emergency rule was issued the ALLOWS “pistol caliber rifles,” just as last year. Link: DNR Emergency Rule
If you hadn’t noticed, there was a pretty big screw-up in this year’s printed hunting regulations and Indiana’s Conservation Officers are left holding the bag.
It happened because there is a new state law regarding rifle hunting for deer. The road to arriving at the rifle law is another story in itself but suffice it to say that the original passed in 2015 was lacking in several regards. In an effort to fix those shortcomings, the legislature passed a new rifle law this spring, HB1415, that addressed most of those problems.
However, apparently unintentionally, it also outlawed all rifles for deer hunting on public land. This was a significant change because previously, “pistol caliber rifles” (PCR) were legal on public land and had been for several years.
Essentially, a PCR is a rifle that uses a smaller cartridge that is commonly considered a handgun round, such as the .357 Magnum or .44 Magnums. When first legalized a few years ago, many hunters went out and purchased such rifles for deer hunting.
The problem arose because none of the people responsible for preparing and disseminating the printed and online hunting regulations realized that the new law forbids ALL rifles on public land. That’s why every printed copy of the 2017-2018 Indiana Hunting Regulations is wrong in that regard (online regulations were changed Friday).
But that’s only part of the story.
Once this conflict was realized far too late, the DNR had a problem on its hands. So, following accepted media best-practices and common sense, they admitted their mistake, made a public apology and promised to do better next time.
That’s exactly what didn’t happen.
What did happen, I’ve heard from multiple sources, was that this reasonable course of action was chosen by senior DNR leadership…at least until forces outside the agency heard of the “crisis” plan and then proceeded to have a proverbial litter of kittens. Things were quickly changed to reflect a “Nothing to see here”-attitude.
It started with a press release quietly sent out by the Division of Communication. As a well-traveled media professional with considerable government experience, I would characterize it as a “stealth” release.
The email, which came out at 5:11 p.m. on Thursday evening (press releases from the Division of Communication almost never come out after 4:00pm and on average arrive mid-mornings; a quick check through several dozen recent releases showed the latest at 2:10 p.m.), bore the eye-catching subject line of “News Release.”
This almost never happens as the subject line in every DNR news release is a specific headline that allows journalists such as Your Humble Correspondent to triage the subject matter quickly while browsing through the in-box. That’s why we initially missed the news release as it blended in with all the other assorted media flotsam we receive on a daily basis. One can assume that was intentional.
Finally, the actual headline on the press release was “Important Corrections to the Indiana Hunting and Trapping Guide.” The second paragraph mentioned the rifle law, followed by a notice that you can only bag one black duck instead of two.
In other words, a major change that will affect many hunters was given nearly equal weight to a minor mistake regarding one black duck in your game pouch.
Though the DNR’s Division of Communications and Division of Fish and Wildlife are probably still arguing who’s fault it was in the first place, they should own it; of course, maybe they did but those outside sources overruled because it might make somebody look bad. Yet, by trying to obfuscate and redirect criticism while playing the “CYA” game, the credibility of the entire DNR is now in question.
And, guess who is going to face the wrath of enraged citizens? Indiana’s Conservation Officers, but they aren’t allowed to even discuss the predicament.
Our men and women in green will undoubtedly face angry hunters in the field who THOUGHT they were complying with the law. While ignorance is no excuse for lawbreaking, there is a reasonable expectation that official DNR publications are a correct reflection of those laws. And again, the people who will have to deal with that conflict, up close and personal, are Indiana’s conservation officers.
And they have to be quiet.
The DNR’s Division of Law Enforcement Public Information Officers (the ‘spokespersons’ for Indiana’s conservation officers) are forbidden from talking about this mistaken. According to multiple DNR officers I’ve spoken with, they have been given a canned written response that may be given to individual hunters but all other inquiries must go to the DNR’s Division of Communication, which only works normal government hours.
That means we don’t have any comment from the Division of Communication because, as this story is being written, there is no one in the office.
In the End
In the end, this was a mistake and mistakes happen. However, there is an old saying in journalism that applies here: “The cover-up is always worse than the original sin.”
While this doesn’t rise to the level of Watergate, we should expect better handling of inevitable foul-balls.
Face it, DNR, you screwed up. But, since MOST folks are reasonable, they’d understand if you’d simply say “My Bad” and tried harder to prevent it from happening again. Now we are left wondering what to believe while also intuitively knowing that covering somebody’s (or the collective) a$$ is more important than being straight with Indiana’s outdoor community.
This episode will not end up being remembered as a significant “typo” but rather a text-book example of how not to handle a medium-sized media crisis.
However, in the end and above everything else, we should take away one important thing regarding this situation: its two black ducks, not one.
That is, assuming the press release was correct.
The full text of Indiana HB1415 in its current form can be read at http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2017/bills/house/1415#document-4b12ddec