CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An effort to move legislation which would have ostensibly set the limit for deer hunting in West Virginia to two bucks failed on a voice vote Friday in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Senate Bill 586 called for limiting the Natural Resources Commission to setting the buck limit annually at no more than two.
“I knew there was a movement to lower the buck limit and somebody asked me to run it,” said Committee Chairman Senator Mark Maynard (R) of Wayne County who sponsored the legislation. “It brought about good discussion, and it brought some things to light for us and the Division of Natural Resources from both sides.”
The legislation comes amid a continued push by some West Virginia hunters to lower the buck limit out of a desire to improve the average size of antlers on West Virginia white tail deer.
“Ohio has a one buck limit. Kentucky has a one buck limit and Pennsylvania has a one buck limit with antler restrictions. West Virginia has three with no restrictions,” said Justin Covert of Putnam County who addressed the committee. “I’m going to spend $594 this year to hunt Ohio and Kentucky for one deer from each state because of their better management. I know I can go there and hunt mature deer.”
Covert and others have sought changes to the buck management plan for several years. They reasoned such changes will improve the chances of killing a mature buck in West Virginia.
“It’s not possible where I hunt now (in West Virginia), the oldest deer I’ll see is two and a half,” Covert continued. “A lot of work and a lot of money goes into it and it’s not fair to guys who hunt hard to go out every year and not have success.”
Ed McMinn, past President of the West Virginia Bow Hunters Association spoke on behalf of the organization in opposition to the legislation. McMinn told the committee he was not there to debate the buck limit, but rather to defend the established process for game management in West Virginia.
“It takes the power away from the Natural Resources Commission to set the bag limits,” said McMinn. “We believe the biologists have the knowledge to study wildlife and to set appropriate bag limits. We simply want the DNR to maintain control. They have the flexibility to make changes as necessary. Putting things into state code could severely tie their hands.”
Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel made a similar claim when questioned by committee members.
“Every year we are allowed to adjust those bag limits and we do it based on the deer kill and deer counts,” McDaniel said. “That’s what’s great about the commission is we have flexibility and can base our decisions on talking to our biologists to set not only the buck limit, but the antlerless limit too.”
McDaniel told members of the committee in the past two years the number of hunters in West Virginia who have legally killed a third buck was in the area of 750 out of 200,000 hunters. He further defended the current system which keeps bag limits and season dates in the hands of the Natural Resources Commission.
“It’s a very good system. My position would be that this bill would usurp that authority and take away the job the commission has been doing pretty well since 1933. ” said McDaniel.
But McDaniel also acknowledged there is a segment who wants to see a change.
“I will tell you however, I understand there is a large group of hunters who would like to see us lower the bag limit because other states have done that recently,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at it, but we don’t react as quickly as some people would like, but you got our attention.”
The Natural Resources Commission will meet on Sunday at the Holiday Inn and Suites in South Charleston to hear those proposed bag limits and season dates for the coming fall in West Virginia. Anticipating an overflow crowd, the meeting was moved from the original meeting place at the DNR Headquarters.
The meeting also allows for public comment. Before final decisions on the fall seasons are made, the agency is required to conduct public meetings around the state known as the Sportsman’s Sectional Meetings in March to gather input on the recommendations.