New seasons and significant changes proposed for big game hunting seasons in W.Va.

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The proposed big game hunting regulations for 2018 will include some significant changes if accepted by the Natural Resources Commission.

The staff proposals from the Division of Natural Resources were presented Sunday before the Natural Resources Commission and include a framework for the antlerless hunting season. Although the framework is much the same as 2017, there are significant changes. The first will be the addition of a an extra day to the each of the split antlerless hunting seasons.

The antlerless hunting seasons would be October 25-28 and December 6-9. Each of the seasons includes the addition of a Sunday as the last day. The latter season also reflects a change from recent years and moves antlerless hunting back to the week immediately following buck firearms season. That week in the last few years had been reserved for muzzleloader hunting.

“We’ve seen a fairly significant decline in the muzzleloader harvest since we made that change back in 2011,” said Gary Foster, Assistant Chief for Game Management for the DNR. “We’re going to flip those seasons to see if we can get better participation in that muzzleloader season.”

Overall, Foster noted there would be more restrictive regulations for antlerless hunting this fall. Many counties have seen their bag limits reduced for the proposed 2018 regulations. However, there are a dozen counties where that is not the case. In fact, in those counties there will be extra incentive for hunters to kill a doe.

“For the most liberal counties, there’s about 12, we’re going to require an antlerless deer to be harvested before a second buck can be taken in those counties,” said Foster. “It was sort of season specific regulation in past years, but we’re going to modify that by making the regulation across all seasons.”

Those counties include Berkeley, Calhoun, Doddridge, the southern portion of Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, eastern portion of Mineral, Monroe, Preston, Ritchie, Tyler, and Wood Counties.

The result will mean if a hunter killed a buck during the archery season, they would need to kill a doe before they could kill a second buck with a bow or a first buck with a gun. Previously you could have killed the first buck with a gun without need for an antlerless deer–but that has been changed. It’s a significant shift from the previous “earn a second buck” regulation and one hunters need to keep in mind to insure they can still kill a buck on the opening day of gun season.

“If the bow season comes and goes and you killed a buck in that block of counties, when the buck firearms season rolls around you’d have to kill a doe before you could kill a buck in the firearm season,” Foster explained.

There would be an opportunity to kill a doe during the early antlerless season to meet the requirement.

The final big change proposed for the 2018 season would be that the big game hunting, at least in a limited way, will be extended in to 2019.

“Historically our big game seasons always closed December 31st,” Foster said. “We’re actually looking at three different seasons to extend opportunities past the first of the year.”

The first of those opportunities will be a three day gun and archery season in the early part of February for wild boar.

“That late boar season we used to have was popular because we would occasionally get snow on the ground,” said Foster.

Additionally, there is a proposal to extend urban deer hunting into the new year for January 14-20.

The third proposed new season is probably the most significant. It creates a primitive weapons season known as a “Mountaineer Heritage Season” in which hunters could hunt either sex deer or bear statewide with traditional flintlock or percussion cap muzzleloaders or recurve or long bows. Compound bows, crossbows, or in-line or scoped muzzleloaders would not be allowed during this season. The proposal would be limited to the recurve or long bows in the four archery only counties in southern West Virginia. The proposed season date is January 10-13.

“We’ve heard a lot of folks in years past wanting a primitive weapons type muzzleloader season,” Foster said. “This is in response to that and we’re going to pull archery into that as well.”

Hunters who buy license year to year would need to remember to buy their new hunting license before participating in one of the newly proposed seasons after the first of the year.

The proposals are now out for public comment and will be discussed during the upcoming Sportsman’s Sectional Meetings with the DNR in March.

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