Three Minnesota hunters are fighting charges brought against them in court for illegally hunting in the Scientific and Natural Area within the Itasca State Park in October of 2011.

The men, Joe Neuwirth and brothers Matt and Eric Eickhoff were very familiar with the park; Neuwirth’s family even had land in the area. There were rumors that part of the park was going to be open to hunting. After checking the regulations in their hunting handbook, the men made a call to the the 800 number on the cover of the handbook to ask if bowhunting was allowed. The phone secretary said it was okay.

After two and half unsuccessful hours of walking, they returned to their cars where two DNR conservation officers were waiting for them. Officers told them they were hunting illegally within the park and then seized their bows and equipment, but didn’t receive a citation until one week later.

The men are fighting charges against them in the Clearwater County District Court. Their plea is that the handbook was confusing and they were mislead by conflicting information by the DNR itself. They are also asking for their hunting gear back, saying the officers had no authority to seize their equipment without court forfeiture procedures.

But the court Attorney’s Office won’t drop the misdemeanor charges. They say the hunting laws are clear and that the men were violating them.

The hunters reviewed their handbook and it is confusing indeed. The Scientific and Natural Area is designated as an undisturbed natural area open only to activities that do not disturb its condition. Occasionally, they are opened to hunting as part of land management plans.

Within the handbook, one page lists state parks that are open to hunting; Itasca is not listed. Another page says Itasca is open during firearm and muzzleloader season, but only by special permit.

Further yet, a third page says it is open to hunting and trapping, but for deer only.

The call the men placed to the DNR was to find out whether they could use their bows to hunt deer. Even though their attorney has the transcripts of the call that prove the person who answered the phone said they could hunt, the Clearwater County Attorney didn’t give much weight to the transcripts, saying the person they spoke with was a potentially unqualified individual.

But the men’s attorney says there are registered deer kills by bow in the area the men were hunting in the park. He said that this was a matter of selective prosecution, but District Court Judge Paul E. Rasmussen has denied a motion to dismiss the charges.

The men’s attorney has filed a motion that asks Rasmussen to reconsider his decision.

Photo: Mark Evans (chimothy27, flickr)

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