UPDATE 2/21/17: Legislation to authorize Sunday hunting statewide advanced out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The version which advanced would allow for hunting ON PRIVATE LAND ONLY with written permission.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A lot of dedicated hunters in West Virginia will comb the woods of their favorite hunting ground during January, February, and March in search of shed antlers. Finding the dropped tines of whitetail trophy bucks has become as much of a passion to some as actually hunting the deer itself. Some hunters use those sheds as part of their planned pursuit of the same buck the following year. A discovery of shed antlers is confirmation he survived hunting season.
One problem though, shed hunting in West Virginia is illegal. Few in West Virginia probably realized the practice was against the law unless you’re extremely familiar with the West Virginia State Code.
“Those are considered to be parts of wildlife,” said Deputy Division of Natural Resources Director Emily Fleming. “You cannot keep, maintain, and possess parts of wildlife unless you legally kill it.”
However, Fleming admitted the illegality is an extreme technicality. The agency has never enforced the rule and now wants to erase it from the book entirely.
“The DNR is very optimistic we can get this passed because it’s an activity that’s going on now,” Fleming said. “What we want to do is take the code that prohibits this and allow it to happen. We want those who are taking advantage of going out and hunting those sheds to be able to do so.”
The shed legislation is one of a package of bills the DNR is pushing during the 2017 regular legislative session. The other major bill in the bundle is is a measure which would lift the prohibition on Sunday hunting statewide.
“It has been blessed by the Governor’s office and we hope to grow the economy of the state by allowing more out-of-state residents to come in and hunt as well as our state residents who want to be in the woods seven days a week,” Fleming said.
Last year’s strong showing of support in the 11 counties where the Sunday hunting question was on the ballot provided the fuel many lawmakers will need to support the idea. Typically the Division of Natural Resources has remained neutral on the question of Sunday hunting, but this year that has changed. Governor Jim Justice and new DNR Director Steve McDaniel are very interested in making West Virginia hunting a tourist attraction. It’s reasoned the task will be made far easier if visitors get an extra day to hunt on the weekend and could be a financial windfall to thousands of private businesses who derive a sizeable portion of their revenue from hunting..
“That’s what we hope to do is get those people from out of state to come to West Virginia and give them that extra hunting day,” explained Fleming.
Previously voted upon measures allowed for Sunday hunting on private land only. The bill backed by the DNR, according to Fleming, will apply to all land in West Virginia–both private and public.
The DNR’s other bills for the session include creation of a special category of Hunter Education Certification for those who have a developmental disability. The bill calls for creation of a hunter education program specifically designed to help those individuals become certified and allowed to hunt under the supervision of a licensed adult hunter.
Another piece of legislation would seek to exempt the names and personal information of hunting and fishing license holders in West Virginia from the rules governing the Freedom of Information Act. Fleming told members of the Natural Resources Commission there was concern over protecting the information. She cited an example of a manufacturer of outdoor products who could seek and legally obtain the information through FOIA to create a potential customer list.
Two more bills introduced by the DNR are considered “clean up” measures to adjust technical problems with the language in the state’s crossbow hunting law and legislation regarding the Department of Wildlife.