New season dates to affect W.Va.'s hunters
Sunday, May 22, 2011
This week's column gives hunters a heads-up about some important regulation changes going into effect this fall:
When West Virginia's wildlife officials change a hunting regulation, they expect two years to pass before hunters grow accustomed to the change.
With that in mind, perhaps this is a good time to preview some significant changes in store for fall 2011. It's not exactly two years' notice, but four months is better than nothing.
The most significant change - the one sure to affect more hunters than any of the others - occurs Oct. 1, the new opening date for the archery deer season.
What's interesting about this change is that it didn't originate with the Division of Natural Resources.
DNR biologists usually propose season dates and bag limits, and the seven-man Natural Resources Commission votes to accept, reject or change them. In this case, however, commission members took matters into their own hands.
One or two commissioners decided that the bow season should start earlier. After a brief discussion, the issue came up for a vote and the motion carried. Just like that, West Virginia's got a deer season that begins two weeks sooner than usual.
DNR officials didn't seem mind the change, though. Every biologist I've talked to has said it wouldn't significantly affect the deer herd.
Interestingly, the Oct. 1 opener will apply only to deer. The bear archery season will open as usual on Oct. 15.
Also, hunters who plan to purchase extra-deer archery stamps should keep in mind that the deadline for those purchases will be moved up accordingly.
So far, I haven't heard a single beef about the early archery opener. The same can't be said of the other major season change.
This year's squirrel season will begin Sept. 10, almost a full month earlier than the traditional early-October opener. DNR biologists proposed the season at the commission's winter 2010 meeting and caught a pile of flak for it.
Two retired DNR biologists, Jim Evans and Jim Pack, publicly asked commission members not to approve the early start. They argued that female squirrels would still be nursing young when the season started, and that the pups would starve if deprived of their mothers' milk.
The dissent didn't sway DNR officials, who countered that the September opener would create significant recreational opportunity, particularly for young hunters. Youth involvement, they said, was significantly more important to them than the loss of an indeterminate number of squirrel pups. Commission members apparently agreed, because they passed the proposal at their July 2010 meeting.
Sportsmen have known about the change for almost a year now. A few have griped, but so far there's been no hue and cry to return to the October squirrel opener.
That's fairly typical of West Virginia's hunters. They aren't shy about commenting on an issue, but don't expect groundswells of support or opposition from them.
DNR officials believed hunters would enthusiastically get behind the agency's recent proposal to move the final week of the fall turkey season into January. The support never materialized.
For two decades, participation in the fall season has declined - mainly because hunters have chosen instead to bowhunt for deer. DNR biologists believed moving a week of the season into January would allow hunters to eat their cake and have it too.
Hunters apparently didn't want their cake in January. Support for the DNR proposal was lukewarm at best, and the commission voted it down.
So the turkey season won't change. The new archery and squirrel openers are both high profile and attract plenty of hunters. Maybe sportsmen will beat the two-year curve this time.
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