SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The most prominent proposals by the Wildlife Resources Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for the upcoming West Virginia hunting seasons are extended hunting time and more inclusive regulations for youth hunters.
Those proposals were made to the quarterly meeting of the Natural Resources Commission on Sunday. The addition of Sunday hunting in West Virginia has created the potential for changes which at one time would have been unheard of in West Virginia.
One proposal would extend the buck season one more day to include the second Sunday after Thanksgiving. West Virginia’s season historically has opened the Monday before Thanksgiving and run for two weeks. Previously the Sunday in the middle of the season was allowed when the Sunday hunting restriction was removed, now there’s a plan to extend the season one more day.
“We don’t think biologically it will hurt the age structure of the deer population, it just gives hunters one more day to be in the woods while they’re off work,” said Division of Natural Resources Assistant Chief for Game Management Gary Foster.
A companion proposal would extend the concurrent bear hunting season in counties where it applies to the second Sunday as well. Sunday would be the final day for the four different fall turkey seasons and the spring gobbler seasons as well under proposed regulation changes as well.
“Right now we have some that go out on Sunday and some that go out on a Saturday. We’re just trying to simplify things so the majority of these can go out on a Sunday now,” he said.
Extending the buck season one day is not nearly as radical a departure from the norm as what the agency proposed for the spring gobbler season.
““..the spring wild turkey season opens on the third Monday in April and runs for thirty-five consecutive days thereafter and is open statewide for the hunting of bearded turkeys only.””
The current spring gobbler season is a 27-day season. Several years ago among overwhelming requests by the public, the four week season was moved up a week. The proposal is to leave the opening week in place and a fifth week on the back end for the spring gobbler season. The reluctance to move the season earlier was how it would impact hens which have gone to nest.
“Looking at the harvest data, it seems like it’s not having any effect. Plus we have some hunters who prefer that last week and although the gobbling is not great at that time, you can still have some great hunting in that week that was lost when we moved it forward. Looking at the data and declines in big game hunter numbers, we don’t think it will have a negative impact from a biological standpoint on the wild turkey population,” Foster said.
Typically bag limits get a lot of attention each year when they are proposed. However, those are nearly identical to 2019 in regard to bear hunting and the antlerless deer season. . The agency proposes to increase the number of antlerless hunting permits to 400 in Pocahontas County. The bag limit for antlerless deer would increase to one in the western end of Mineral County and all of Lincoln County where the regulation last year was split.
The more restrictive proposals for 2020 are equally minimal in this year’s proposed regulations. The DNR proposes lowering the bag limit of antlerless deer to one in northern Kanawha County, Mason, and Wirt Counties. The rest of the antlerless deer restrictions would remain the same as 2019.
Bear season changes proposed by the agency include opening up Mercer, Richie, Wetzel, and Wirt Counties to coincide with the early antlerless deer season from October 22-25 with no permit required on public or private land. The season would not include hunting with bear hounds.
The other change to bear season will be in Preston County. The agency will close bear hunting with dogs on private land in the eastern end of Preston County between Reedsville and the Monongalia County Line. The area is roughly 58 square miles.
“Most of that is small parcels of private land and we’ve had several complaints from landowners in that area,” said Bear Project Leader Colin Carpenter.
A special youth bear season is proposed for the third Saturday and following Sunday in October. The season would be on private and public lands in counties open to a firearms deer hunting season. Dogs would not be permitted for the season and the hunters would be age 8 to less than 18 years of age. The season would include Class Q and Class XS license holders.
Also for youth hunting, the DNR also proposed to allow hunters age 14 and under along with Class Y license holders to use a crossbow during the crossbow deer season in Logan, McDowell, Mingo, and Wyoming Counties.The proposal drew questions from Commissioner Jeff Bowers and several members of the audience since it pertains to the entire hunting season and not just the youth hunting season.
“There’s some indication that younger hunters may not be able to pull back a bow, but they can use a crossbow at a younger age,” said Foster.
Bowers and some public speakers raised grave questions about the possibility of poaching and illegal activity if the regulation is put into place.
A similar proposal would allow for the use of crossbows with specific bolt tips in the youth spring gobbler season.
A final regulation change proposed in the 2020 package involves coyote hunting. As proposed it reads:
“The Division of Natural Resources proposes to allow year-round coyote hunting with an artificial light with the condition that between September 1 through December 31 night hunting with an artificial light for coyotes could only occur on private land, after receiving permission and prior to hunting, with the requirement that the hunter(s) must notify the DNR-Law Enforcement Section after they received permission.”
According to Foster, the proposal is a compromise to legislation touted by some members of the Legislature who want night hunting for coyotes allowed year round. The practice is presently allowed until the end of August, but during the four months of the majority of big game seasons is not allowed. Contact will law enforcement is sought to add a lawyer of protection against potential for spotlighting and poaching.
None of the regulations are set in stone. They are merely proposals out for public comment. Members of the public can ask questions and submit at the Sportsman’s Sectional meetings in March. Comments can also be communicated via mail or email to the agency. The Natural Resources Commission will vote on the proposals at it’s meeting May 3rd at Hawk’s Nest State Park.