Single-shot Rifles Allowed for Deer Hunting
Licensed Illinois deer hunters with permits allowing for participation in the January 2023 Late Winter and CWD seasons had the opportunity to be among the first hunters able to deer hunt using single-shot rifles and ammunition. On January 1, 2023, a new Illinois law (Public Act 102-932) authorizes hunters to use centerfire, single-shot rifles in certain calibers for deer hunting, in addition to the already authorized shotgun, handgun, muzzleloading rifle, or bow and arrow seasons. Illinois joins other midwestern states (Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan) in allowing straight-wall rifles for deer huting.
“There are several articles in print that suggest that the newly authorized cartridges’ performance is very similar to shotgun slugs,” explained Mike Wefer, Chief of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Division of Wildlife Resources. “I think where we might see some advantages are in our R3 (Recruit, Retain, and Reactivate) efforts. The new rounds produce less recoil than shotgun slugs. This might mean that youth, smaller-framed hunters, or folks who are sensitive to recoil may have a better time sighting in and using one of these rifles. After helping my 14-year-old sight in a youth model slug gun, I can really appreciate the benefits of less recoil!”
On the retain and reactivation aspects of the R3 program, Wefer feels that some hunters will find it exciting to hunt deer with a new type of equipment.
For clarification, a few definitions are in order.
“Centerfire” is defined as a gun that will only fire a round that contains the primer in the center of the cartridge and not in the rim of the cartridge.
“Single shot” means a gun that is either manufactured or modified to only be capable of holding a total of one round in the magazine and chamber combined. “Single shot” does not include: (a) a rifle in the possession of a person who is also in possession of or in close proximity to a magazine that would allow the rifle to be capable of holding more than one round or (b) a revolver. A gun shall be considered single shot if there is no magazine in the possession of or in close proximity to a hunter in the field and the gun can only hold a total of one round.
The only legal ammunition for a centerfire handgun or rifle is a bottleneck centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger with a case length not exceeding one and two-fifths inches, or a straight-walled centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger, both of which must be available as a factory load with the published ballistic tables of the manufacturer showing a capability of at least 500-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. Full metal jacket bullets may not be used to harvest deer.
“IDNR can adjust regulations if the data shows that this these new rifles are impacting deer populations,” Wefer noted. “Deer populations in Illinois are managed at the county level. Annually, biologists from the Forest Wildlife Program review county-level deer data, which includes harvest numbers, success rates, number of permits sold, number of reported deer-vehicle accidents and other information. The Forest Wildlife Program then takes appropriate management actions in an effort to bring deer populations to their county goal levels.”
For additional information on the use of single-shot rifles for deer hunting in Illinois, visit https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/hunting/Pages/Law-change-that-affects-hunting-season.aspx. The Administrative Rules pertaining to deer hunting with single shot rifles can be found at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/adrules/documents/17-650.pdf.
Consult the annual Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations for details on hunting deer in Illinois.
Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Journal.
Submit a question for the author
Question: Is the caliber 308 allowed during Illinois firearm deer season? Will a bolt action rifle be allowed without the magazine in it?
Reply: Thank you for your question. Per the IDNR Administrative Code firearm language, found on page 16 of the Illinois Hunting and Trapping Digest, “…legal ammunition for a centerfire handgun or rifle is a bottleneck, centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger”. Therefore, the .308 caliber rifle you are referring to would be considered legal. In regards to bolt action without a magazine, page 16 also states a single-shot firearm is “a gun that is either manufactured or modified to only be capable of holding a total of one round”. Removing the magazine attachment would successfully achieve this. But please note that IDNR Administrative Code also stipulates that “a gun shall be considered single shot is there is no magazine in the possession of or in close proximity to a hunter in the field and the gun can only hold a total of one round”. Best leave those extra rounds and magazine at home when you head out hunting! For more questions, a full breakdown of what is and is NOT legal when hunting with a centerfire rifle, visit Hunt Illinois’ Definition Page and click the tab for “Equipment”.
Question: I have been unable to clarify if there are going to be restrictions on which season a straight wall rifle is going to be allowed. Youth, Firearm, or Late Winter Season or all of the above? Did you happen to come across this in any of the conversations/interviews for this article?
Reply: Thank you for your comment. The term firearm encompasses any legal device as defined by 17 ILL. Adm. Code- Section 650.30 including the aforementioned straight-walled rifle. Firearms, including recently legal straight-walled rifles, can be utilized in Firearm seasons including Youth, Firearm, and Late Winter season but not during Muzzleloader season. For more information regarding regulations for rifle use in deer hunting and a better list of what is defined as a straight-walled, centerfire rifle visit IDNR’s website at: FAQs: Single-shot rifles and deer hunting in Illinois and IlSingleShotRifle.pdf.