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John McCoy: Does Legislature want to go back to 'bad old days' of deer management?

For years, a determined group of deer hunters has asked Division of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Commission officials to lower West Virginia’s buck limit to two or fewer.

Their requests didn’t get them what they wanted, so now they’ve started an end run.

Earlier this week, no fewer than four pieces of legislation were introduced, all of which would lower the buck limit to two. Two of them would also increase license fees for resident and non-resident hunters.

House Bill 2984 and Senate Bill 577 are essentially the same. Both contain significant license-fee increases. For example, the cost of a Class A base hunting license would jump from $18 to $48. A Class X “sportsman” license, which also includes fishing, would go from $33 to $63.

Those are just the resident fees. The hit for non-residents would be much more substantial.

A base non-resident hunting license would skyrocket from $110 to $250.

To justify the increases, proponents want to shift the cost of Class N antlerless-deer hunting licenses to the base licenses, which would allow — as the bill’s language states — “One whitetail [sic] deer of either sex and three antlerless deer, that may be harvested with any legal weapon during the corresponding season.” Doe tags would essentially be eliminated.

Extra-buck tags would still be sold, but the price would go from $20 to $40 for residents and from $40 to $100 for non-residents. Hunters who purchased the tags would only be allowed to kill bucks with antlers that have at least three scorable points on one side.

HB 3053 wouldn’t mess with license fees. Instead, it would mandate that a hunter’s first buck could be taken with rifle, bow, crossbow or muzzleloader, but that the hunter’s next buck would have to have three or more scorable points on a side. The bill specifically prohibits the killing of a third buck.

Another bill, SB 586, is simple and to the point: It would prohibit the Natural Resources Commission from approving an antlered-deer bag limit of three or more.

Do you sense a theme here?

The bills have different sponsors, but the impetus behind them appears to have come from a Facebook group called WV Hunters for Better Buck Management. Several of the people who are most active there also claim affiliation with the national Quality Deer Management Association.

The timing of last week’s bill blitz seems curious, particularly since QDMA recently published a warning against taking deer management out of the hands of natural resource agencies and placing it in the hands of politicians.

The folks at QDMA apparently know what West Virginia lawmakers only learned after decades of embarrassing attempts to manage the deer herd.

They’re the folks whose biological ineptitude brought us the Tucker Buck War of 1951, which so decimated the whitetail population that it took almost a decade to recover. They’re the folks who afterward sanctioned localized slaughters in any part of the state fortunate enough to develop a decent deer herd.

Finally, in the late 1960s, lawmakers acknowledged their incompetence and handed over authority to the DNR and the NRC. DNR biologists were to recommend season lengths and bag limits, and NRC members were to have the final say on setting them.

The deer population has flourished under DNR-NRC oversight. The total statewide deer harvest, which had never surpassed 25,000 under legislative control, now averages between 100,000 and 125,000.

There’s no guarantee the state’s deer herd would regress to the “bad old days” under legislative control, but is that a risk the average hunter would want to take?

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Adkins, Denvil - 11 a.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Armstrong, Lola - 3 p.m., Old Pine Grove Cemetery, Sumerco.

Cottrell, H. Harvey - 2 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hager, Doran - 1 p.m., Highland Memory Gardens, Godby.

Hedrick, Phyllis - Noon, Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Lane, Mary - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Ludwig, Michael - 1 p.m., Epworth United Methodist Church, Ripley.

Morton, Laura - 1 p.m., Ida Baptist Church, Bentree.

Sodder, Elsie - Noon, St. Anthony’s Shrine Catholic Church, Boomer.

Stump, Ruth - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.