For me, my grouse gun has always been a hinge action Remington 28-gauge or Cooey .410. My go-to turkey gun has always been a pump-action Remington 870 Express 12-gauge. In recent years, I use a semi-automatic Browning Gold Hunter 12-gauge decked out in marsh camo for waterfowl. The gun I take to the deer woods has always been a semi-automatic Winchester Model 100. My other firearms are more of the same with some over-under, lever, and bolt action models of various calibres.
They all look and feel like hunting to me.
Look and feel isn’t the reason I choose them for hunting though. In fact, I didn’t choose them at all. These firearms were loaned to me as a teenage apprentice and ultimately left to me in my early 20s by my late father, so, honestly, it’s the sentimental value alone that has me pulling them out of the safe each hunting season. I’ve never really felt a need to change or upgrade, even when the Model 100 jams on me.
But, if I didn’t have these firearms, a family history of hunting or a personal bias of what a hunting firearm is, then what would I choose as a hunting firearm? For me, these are all rhetorical questions because I have enjoyed a life-long and multi-generational relationship with hunting and I’m happy to have and hold on to my hunting firearms. That’s not the case for everyone, though.
The Greek Philosopher Epictetus said, “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows”. In all honesty, that quote described me when it came to my thinking on ‘military-style’ firearms before I started to actively work on the policies that govern their ownership and use. I know from talking to many other hunters that I wasn’t alone in having these preconceived notions. In recent years, the term ‘Military-style’ has arguably been a heavily used and polarizing buzzword in firearms discussions. We see it daily within the OFAH community where there is a broad spectrum of opinions on the relationship between these much-maligned firearms and hunting.
There is no dictionary definition for a ‘hunting firearm’. If there was, it would likely say “a firearm used for hunting”. You might be thinking, ‘thanks Captain Obvious’. Clearly, it is much more complex than that and takes careful consideration, but many people inside and outside the hunting community have trouble fully describing what a hunting firearm is. And that’s a huge problem. The lack of willingness to take a more in-depth look has challenged our ability to get beyond the quick and emotional responses that dominate the conversation. We need a more objective and evidence-based examination to inform these discussions.
This need became even more apparent when thousands of firearms were banned by an order in council in May 2020. The political and public debates that preceded the OIC and have ensued since are rife with the same lack of understanding about how firearms are used for hunting. The OFAH has tackled this topic in many policy submissions, testimony to the House of Commons and Senate, and through general education and outreach. Many other individuals and organizations have done the same. Nothing seems to be able to overcome the entrenched biases and misconceptions on the subject.
When an opportunity presented itself through the ongoing court proceedings related to the OIC bans to inform the courts understanding, I knew that this might be our best opportunity to help inform the conversation. As a result, I authored a report that became the primary exhibit for three separate affidavits that were sworn and filed with the federal court earlier this month. READ MORE ON THAT HERE.
The report, What Firearms Are Reasonable and Proportionate for Hunting in Canada, examines everything from the military origins of firearms to the relationship of firearm function and hunting to the availability of hunting ammunition for calibres that are common in what have been labeled as military-style firearms. It is intended to step back from what we think we know about firearms and their relationship to hunting and offer an objective and evidence-based examination that connects all the complex considerations that are needed to truly understand this subject.
My own personal biases were challenged long before working on this report as I engaged in discussions with firearms owners with broader interests than my own. I started to think differently about firearms and their use, with a particular interest in trying to figure out what a ‘military-style’ firearm is. It wasn’t well defined in law or anywhere else.
I started by looking at my well-used Model 100 that has been a hunting firearm for three generations in my family – a semi-automatic rifle chambered in 308 WIN with a wood stock, a 22” barrel, and a detachable box magazine. That description or even a photo of the firearm has never caused much debate about whether it’s a hunting firearm.
Then I looked at firearms that have been labeled as ‘military-style’ and found that some of them had very similar descriptions to my Model 100. So, what makes them ‘military-style’?
Let’s look at the Springfield Armory M1A series. These firearms were not only labeled ‘military-style’, but also prohibited by order in council in May 2020. The M1A Standard Issue rifle is a semi-automatic, chambered in 308 WIN, walnut or composite stock, 22” barrel, and has a detachable box magazine. The only advertised differences from my Model 100 include a two-stage trigger, military aperture rear sight, and a long-slotted flash suppressor.
The semi-automatic action and the calibre are the same, and they don’t mate with restricted or prohibited firearms, so they are proportionate to other widely accepted hunting firearms. So far, nothing changes the basic function of the firearm. So, what gives?
It seems like having a slightly enhanced tactical appearance and more direct military origins are responsible. The M1A shares the design of the M14 rifle that was a standard issue for the U.S. military in the 1950s and 1960s. The modern civilian M14 ‘types’, however, are limited to only having a semi-automatic action instead of the ‘select fire switch’ of the U.S. military version that allowed for fully automatic fire. The civilian versions accept detachable box magazines, but the high-capacity 20-cartridge magazines of the military version are already illegal in Canada.
To recap – the M1A Standard Issue looks different, has different performance features, and has more direct military origins than my Model 100. The basic form and function are the same.
Although the written description of the M1A Standard Issue wouldn’t stir up much of a debate about whether it is reasonable or proportionate for hunting, a photo would reveal a more ‘military appearance’ than my Model 100. When it comes to firearms, a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, so it’s more than fair to point out that this sort of debate simply comes down to perception and a continued lack of understanding. That mindset, unfortunately, generally elicits a biased response and prevents people from understanding the true form and function of a firearm and how that relates to its use for hunting. This is even more true when looking at other models in Springfield Armory’s M1A rifle series that have black adjustable stocks, a Picatinny rail, and other features that have a more ‘military look’.
I personally don’t own a firearm that was prohibited by the OIC, so I have no skin in the game. But, after doing a deep dive on this topic, undertaking the research, and compiling this report, I have a profound appreciation for the similarities between my hunting firearms and some of those that were recently prohibited. This is and will continue to be an important topic for all firearms owners, not just those who own the newly prohibited firearms. I hope that everyone, hunters and non-hunters alike, will take some time to review the report and use it to inform their perspectives about what a hunting firearm is.