CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation introduced in Charleston would enable deer hunters to buy a couple of early hunting days during the rifle season for bucks.
House Bill 3059 proposes opening the rifle season, starting this fall, on the Saturday prior to the traditional opening day which is the Monday before Thanksgiving. However, to do so, hunters would have to purchase a special stamp.
“I’ve always felt starting deer season on Monday, instead of Saturday, hurt a lot of people who couldn’t get off work,” said Delegate Jeff Campbell (D) of Greenbrier County the lead sponsor of the legislation. “Saturday seemed to be more sensible to allow more hunters access to opening day.”
Campbell said he introduced the bill after informal discussions with a large number of constituents who are hunters as well as rank and file employees of the Division of Natural Resources. The idea isn’t necessarily new. The DNR commissioned an in-house survey of a random group of West Virginia hunters in 2018 to gauge support for a variety of ideas. Movement of opening day was one of the questions. The survey results, which were published last fall, found 71 percent of the respondents would rather have opening day stay on the Monday before Thanksgiving as it has been for decades. The survey was conducted of 8500 random West Virginia hunters.
“I thought adding another weekend would also help the small businesses who serve outdoorsmen,” said Campbell.
Starting the season on a Saturday would come at a cost however, the legislation creates a stamp to allow hunting on Saturday and Sunday before opening day. The cost would be $20 for residents and $30 for non-residents. The bill also divides the revenue from the stamp with 20 percent of the funding to DNR Law Enforcement, State Parks, the Department of Veterans Assistance, Public Employees Retirement System, and the state’s Wildlife Management Areas program.
“By splitting the stamp proceeds into 20 percent shares we have a chance to help a lot of people,” Campbell explained. “The DNR retirement benefits fund needs a boost. We have long needed a Veterans Nursing Home in southern West Virginia and this would raise revenue to help veterans. It will also be a help to the state parks to make them more attractive destinations for our people and visitors.”
The Natural Resources Commission is tasked with setting season dates and bag limits for West Virginia’s fish and game. Typically the commission considers biological impacts before setting those dates, but the buck season is one that has been set in stone by tradition on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The opening date fluctuates from year to year as to where it falls within the rut. Depending on when Thanksgiving appears in the November calendar the opening day may be closer or further from the peak of rutting activity when whitetail bucks are at their most vulnerable. More than 80 percent of deer killed in the two week buck season are taken in the first three days.
The bill has bi-partisan support with six Democrats and five Republicans signing on as co-sponsors.