During this deer hunting season, hunters from Delaware will be able to use straight-walled bolt action, lever action, break action, and now semi-auto rifles for hunting. Previously, using any kind of rifle was illegal in the state, and most hunters had to use shotguns or pistols when hunting with a firearm. If you are new to bolt action rifles, start here: Everything you need to know about bolt action rifles.
The changes in the legislature came as a result of a lawsuit filed in November 2019 by the Delaware State Sportsmen's Association (DSSA), and its president Jeff Hague, against the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and its secretary, Shawn Garvin.
According to the lawsuit filed by the DSSA, state agencies like the DNREC do have the right to impose new regulations without the approval of any lawmakers, however, in the case of the rifle hunting regulation, it didn’t follow the necessary steps that it legally has to when creating such a regulation.
You see, in the state of Delaware, along with many others, state agencies like the DNREC have to consider public input before making any regulation changes, and the lawsuit filed by the DSSA claimed that the DNREC had not done so, to which the court agreed.
On November 18th, 2020 the Delaware supreme court ruled in favor of the DSSA, claiming that DNREC had overstepped its authority by preventing Delaware hunters from using rifles for hunting.
The lawsuit specifically pointed to the DNREC hunting guide. Which did not classify semi-automatic rifles among firearms that could be used for hunting, and stated that deer hunters could not use a rifle if its caliber wasn’t also fired out of an existing handgun.
However, there are some restrictions imposed on the types of ammunition that can be used.
Firstly, only straight-walled pistol calibers can be used, which are usually pistol and revolver rounds.
Some straight-walled rifle cartridges also exist, therefore, there is also a restriction on the size of the calibers that can be used. You can use .357 to 38 caliber cartilages, with a minimum case length of 1.25 inches and a maximum of 1.82 inches, or you can use .41 to .50 caliber cartilage with a maximum case length of 1.82 inches.
According to the new ruling, semi-automatic rifles cant be loaded with more than 3 rounds, including the one in the chamber.
Lastly, these rifles cannot be used for deer hunting north of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
Now, many gun rights activists believe that the ban on rifles for hunting deer was imposed because of the stigma attached to semi-automatic rifles and it was a veiled attempt to discourage the sale of such firearms. However, the officials say that rifles were banned because of safety concerns, since Delaware is a small and flat state, and there usually are a lot of hunters around during the deer hunting season.
In light of these concerns, only straight-walled pistol calibers are allowed for rifles both single action and semi-automatic, since they have a longer range than shotgun slugs, but not as long as rifle hunting rounds like .308 Winchester and 30-06.
Therefore, many hunters are now shifting to straight-walled pistol-caliber rifles instead of shotgun slugs for hunting. However, there has been some confusion among hunters. Firstly, many people are probably wondering why straight-walled cartridges?
The notion that the rounds must be straight walled, refers to the brass not being necked down. This restricts usage so rounds like 5.56NATO or 7.62x39, which may be found in AR pistol style firearms, may not be used.
Which Pistol Caliber Straight Walled Cartridge rounds can be used under the new Delaware gun laws?
Though the size, weight, and other specifications of the round allowed for rifle hunting in Delaware are mentioned above, people don't exactly know what calibers they can and can not use. Though there are probably loads of rounds that match the description specified by the new regulation, here are some popular rounds that you can use for deer hunting.
.44 Remington Magnum
From left to right: .357 Magnum, .350 Legend, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Long Colt, and .450 Bushmaster
Most popular straight-walled pistol-caliber rounds for hunting in Delaware.
When it comes to hunting deer during whitetail season, .350 Legend and .450 Bushmaster seem to be the most popular rounds. They are large rounds, capable at a fair distance, while still complying with the straight-walled constraint. Both .350 Legend and .450 Bushmaster are very popular because they were designed to be fired from AR-15s, and can fit in an AR-15 style magazine(the followers are different from a normal AR-15 magazine and will need to be swapped). If you want to switch an existing AR-15 from a more standard caliber like 5.56, you will need to swap the bolt and barrel. With these three simple changes (bolt, barrel, and magazine), you can have an AR-15 chambered in .350 Legend or .450 Bushmaster.
The .450 Bushmaster is typically compared to .458 SOCOM and 50 Beowulf. .458 SOCOM is somewhat better in terms of ballistics and range, it is a tapered round, and hence not legal in the state of Delaware. 50 Beowulf is another option, and it is straight-walled, and legal in Delaware. However, it might be too big of a bullet to hunt whitetail deer. This is why the .450 bushmaster takes the lead over its rivals.
The 350 Legend is also an excellent round for hunting, especially for new hunters and youngsters. It has lower recoil than the .450 Bushmaster, but still has more than enough knockdown power to bag a whitetail deer. It does lose a bit of energy at longer ranges, giving .450 Bushmaster an edge if you plan on shooting 250+ yards.
450 Bushmaster vs 350 Legend
The .350 legend is the faster, and flatter shooting round, however, the .450 Bushmaster has the edge in knockdown power and effective range. In terms of felt recoil, the .350 legend is the smoother shooting round.
Like the rest of Delaware's Gun laws, we understand that hunting regulations and laws can sometimes be confusing, and it can become difficult to keep up with the change. Therefore, we hope that this post helped you get some clarity, and find out all you need to know in light of the new regulations for deer hunting in Delaware. Both the .450 Bushmaster and the .350 Legend are extremely capable rounds for deer hunting. If you want a round with less recoil and are not planning on making super long shots, go with .350 Legend. If you want the most knock down power, long range shots, and are okay with more recoil, .450 Bushmaster is the round for you.