By late afternoon today, there’s a good chance that West Virginia’s spring gobbler season will be changed to something different.
Members of the state Natural Resources Commission reportedly will consider whether to open next year’s spring gobbler season sometime earlier in the month of April. How much earlier? Well, that’s a detail yet to be decided.
The notion of starting the season earlier didn’t come from Division of Natural Resources biologists or administrators. It came from Jeff Bowers, a commissioner from Pendleton County, who asked DNR officials to ask sportsmen if they’d like for the spring gobbler season to start one week earlier.
Bowers’ request, made during the commission’s February meeting, caught agency administrators off guard. Ordinarily they propose changes to the state’s seasons and bag limits, and the commission — a panel of seven political appointees — votes to adopt, reject or modify the proposals.
Requests for the DNR to gauge public opinion on an issue aren’t unprecedented, though, so agency officials dutifully added the question, “Would you like for West Virginia’s spring turkey season to open on the third Monday in April?” to a questionnaire distributed to sportsmen in mid-March.
The results of the questionnaire have long since been tallied, but we won’t know them until after today’s meeting. It’s a standard DNR policy to keep questionnaire results under wraps until they’ve been shared with the commission.
It’s easy to imagine how sportsmen answered the question, though. A long-time, standard gripe among Mountain State turkey hunters is that the current season comes in too late. One of my National Wild Turkey Federation sources likened Bowers’ question to “holding a $100 bill under a man’s nose and asking him if he’d like to have it.”
A DNR source tells me that biologists have prepared a briefing paper detailing the agency’s rationale for opening the season as it currently exists. The paper also reportedly outlines the effects an earlier season might have on turkey reproduction and the population as a whole. And, if my source is accurate, it recommends that changes to the opening date, if made, should be kept conservative.
None of my sources is sure what will happen at today’s meeting.
Commission members could take the DNR’s briefing under advisement and defer action until a later date. This seems like the least likely scenario, mainly because a change has to be made at this meeting in order to go into effect for the 2016 season.
It is much more likely that the commission could go with Bowers’ concept and start the season on the third Monday in April. Alternately, commissioners could split the difference between the current opener on the fourth Monday and Bowers’ third-Monday proposal — something like “the Monday closest to April 21,” or something similar.
The current season opener is set to protect hens. It is timed to coincide with the onset of incubation, a time when most of the hens are on the nest and unavailable to be accidentally shot or deliberately poached.
With that in mind, the picture becomes clear. If the opener ends up getting changed, it will be a decision driven by what hunters want, not what the resource needs. In other words, it will be driven by politics, not science.
Good luck with that.
Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or 304-348-1231.