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Legislation would lower buck limit and raise license fees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation introduced this week at the State Capitol would radically change the rules for deer hunting in West Virginia. It would also dramatically increase the cost of deer hunting in the Mountain State.

House Bill 2984 aims to eliminate the Class N and Class NN stamps for hunting antlerless deer. The legislation would further eliminate the current Class RB and RRB stamps for bow hunting and the Class RG and RRG stamps allowing for an extra deer with a gun.

Instead, the new look regulations would allow for hunters to kill one buck and three does on the base hunting license. A second buck would be allowed only after a hunter had killed an antlerless deer and that second buck would have to meet strict antler restrictions of three visible tines above the brow tines on the main beam.

“I’ve been hearing, and a lot of Delegates have been hearing from a lot of our outdoorsmen and constituents who want us to go to a two buck limit,” said Ritchie County Delegate Jason Harshbarger one of the bill’s cosponsors. “We’ve got a lot of people who want us to do more of a deer management program like our surrounding states.”

The legislation would reduce the current limit of three bucks annually to two and would restrict hunters to only one buck per hunting implement. Under the proposal, if a hunter were to kill a buck with their bow or crossbow on their base license, they would only be allowed to kill a buck during the two week buck season as a second buck and only if they had already killed a doe. Subsequently that buck to be killed with a rifle would also have to meet the antler restrictions. A hunter who was successful in taking the second buck with a rifle would be done hunting and could not take a buck with a muzzleloader.

“A lot of people go over to Ohio and hunt because of the trophy deer there–and genetics are part of that, but if you look in the southern part of our state where it’s bow only and you can only kill one buck, we’re raising some big deer,” Harshbarger explained. “We’re hearing from constituents who want to see those deer get a little bit of age on them to produce bigger rack sizes.”

An almost identical bill was introduced in the state Senate. The legislation comes after several years of discussion on social media sites about the best way to improve the average size of antlers in West Virginia.

In addition to changes in the number of deer and order in which they are killed, the cost to hunt would jump significantly. The price for the Class A resident hunting and trapping license would immediately rise from $18 to $48. The Class E non-resident hunting and trapping license would jump from $110 to $250. The most popular Class X Sportsman’s license for resident hunting, fishing, and trapping would go from $33 to $63. The Class XJ resident junior sportsman’s license and the Class XXJ for non-resident junior sportsman’s license would both increase from $15 to $45.

The legislation seeks to repeal the Class N and NN stamps completely. The Class RG and RRG Stamps which are for an extra buck for resident and non-resident hunters respectively would remain, but would increase in cost. The resident RG stamp would go from $20 to $40 and the non-resident RRG stamp would increase in price from $40 to $100.

“I’ve had a lot of calls and emails since this was introduced and while most want the two buck limit, there’s a lot of heartburn over these fees and I would be in agreement,” Harshbarger said. “But this bill was introduced to facilitate discussion.”

A second bill introduced Tuesday, Senate Bill 586 was much more direct. Senate Bill 586 by Senator Mark Maynard of Wayne County and Senator Glen Jefferies of Putnam County would change the authorization of the Natural Resources Commission and disallow them to set a limit of three or more bucks.

The proposed changes are likely to create pressure on the DNR and the Natural Resources Commission which until now had been reluctant to tamper with the current deer management structure. .

“The Governor appoints a commission to set the bag limit. There are a lot of people who want to reduce the bag limit from three to two,” said Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel. “I want to make sure everybody gets a chance to be heard, but I want the commission to take a serious look at this.”

McDaniel said he’s heard from a certain segment of sportsmen much like the legislature.

“Constituents matter and we’re one of the few states that hasn’t done much to address this,” McDaniel said.

The Director indicated he intended to assemble information to present to the Commission at the upcoming meeting later this month about what other states have done.

“I prefer not to legislate it. The agency and the commission have the authority and the knowledge to do so for themselves,” said Harshbarger. “I’ll be up front with you, I have no intention of running this bill, but it’s a way of showing them we’re getting a lot of feedback from our constituents, can you look at this seriously and see if we can make this change in our state.”

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