Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Outfitters seek to overturn hunting license law

One of the drawbacks to making laws is that someone inevitably wants to overturn them.

New Mexico legislators already know that, of course, but lately they’re getting their noses rubbed in it. From the Associated Press:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Outfitters from four Western states argued Wednesday in federal court that their constitutional rights to conduct business in New Mexico were being upended by changes to the state’s hunting draw.
A coalition of several outfitters from Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington have asked the court to issue an injunction and temporary restraining order to keep New Mexico’s law from taking effect.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo ordered the proceeding to continue Thursday after hearing a few hours of testimony and evidence.
The law spells out how many New Mexico residents, non-residents and outfitters can be awarded hunting tags through New Mexico’s draw system. Tens of thousands of hunting licenses are sold in the state every year, and a portion of those are doled out through the draw by the state Game and Fish Department.
The quota system was changed last year after New Mexico hunters fought to ensure in-state hunters received a larger portion of the hunting tags.
At the center of the dispute is language that New Mexico legislators included in the law that mandated 10 percent of hunters cannot apply for a license through the draw unless they hire a New Mexico-based outfitter.
Before this year, the location of an outfitter’s business didn’t matter.
“Regulations that prohibit out-of-state residents from doing business in another state are clearly prohibited by the Commerce clause under well-established case law,” the out-of-state outfitters said in their complaint.
Hunting, guiding and outfitting are part of a big business in New Mexico, where rural communities depend on money spent by outdoor enthusiasts. Studies have shown hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation annually contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy.
New Mexico sportsmen are concerned the court case will put in limbo their efforts to ensure a larger portion of tags for in-state hunters.
Before the law was changed, less than 80 percent of the draw licenses were reserved for residents, with the remainder going to non-residents and outfitters. On average, that was the lowest percentage for residents of any state in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
With 84 percent of tags now earmarked for residents, the federation said in-state hunters actually have better odds of drawing a license.
“The bottom line is the problem that is being expressed has to do with this requirement to hire outfitters,” said Jeremy Vesbach, director of the wildlife federation. “Nobody is challenging the idea that residents can have a preference, but they’re trying to take down the whole building over it. They want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Vesbach also disputed the outfitters’ claims that they’re being barred from doing business in New Mexico. He said they can still compete for business, like they do in other states, they just wouldn’t be eligible for New Mexico’s “outfitter subsidy pool.”
The deadline to apply for big game draw licenses is March 28, and some 70,000 hunters have already applied, according to a department official who testified Wednesday. The Game and Fish Department is supposed to conduct the draw in early May.
Department officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Cougar killing might cost official his job

Dan Richards and the cougar that might cost him his job

Imagine losing your job because you took part in a perfectly legal hunt.

That’s might just happen to Dan Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission. Richards killed a mountain lion in Idaho, where it’s legal to do so. Animal rights activists in his home state of California — where mountain lion hunting is illegal — went bonkers. They put pressure on Democratic members of the state Assembly, who introduced legislation to oust Richards from his post.

The legislative effort was short-lived, but the San Jose Mercury News reports that  members of the Commission recently voted 4-1 to change the rules by which commission presidents are chosen. Armed with the rule change, they could vote Richards out of his presidential post as early as May 23.

Animal-rights and environmental groups are salivating at the prospect. The Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club openly lobbied for Richards’ ouster.

I think the Commission’s vote says more about the people being appointed to the Commission than it does about Richards. For years, in the interest of “diversity,” animal-rights and enviro groups have sought to load up state game commissions with people who represent their points of view. In California, it would appear that the effort has achieved critical mass.

If the attempt to oust Richards succeeds, where will it lead? Will good people fear to run for office because they had (gasp!)  “animal killings” in their past? Would politics become a “hunters need not apply” prospect?

I sure hope not.

Deer harvest stats: Point of view matters

John McCoy photo

Most West Virginians think of Iowa as a deer hunter’s paradise, but recent statistics show that hunters in the Hawkeye State might not have it as good as we Mountaineers believe.

Last year, while West Virginia’s deer kill increased 24 percent, Iowa’s fell 4.5 percent.

A story about Iowa’s falloff, from the Associated Press:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hunters in Iowa killed about 4.5 percent fewer deer during the recent hunting seasons.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says hunters killed about 121,400 deer during the 2011-2012 seasons. Officials say Iowa’s deer population has been reduced by about 30 percent from its peak in 2006.
Spokesman Dale Garner says deer numbers in many areas are near or below the DNR’s objective. The department will review the harvest and population surveys this spring and make proposals to reduce the kill and stabilize deer where the numbers are at or below the goal.
The agency says in areas were numbers haven’t reached the goal, hunters will have the option to kill extra does. Many of these areas are near cities and towns where hunting is restricted.

Granted, Iowa is arguably a better place to hunt trophy bucks. But for numbers? West  Virginia sportsmen killed more than 132,000 whitetails last season, and Iowa sportsmen killed 121,000. And West Virginia is less than half the size of Iowa.

Manchin to feds: Leave hunting, fishing alone!

Former West Virginia governor and current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has put the National Park Service on notice.

In a letter to NPS director Jon Jarvis, Manchin asked that federal officials put in writing that the proposed High Allegheny National Park and Preserve continue to allow hunting and trapping within its boundaries. Manchin also demanded that stockings of non-native rainbow and brown trout be allowed to continue, that small timber cuts be allowed to create wildlife clearings, and that the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources remain the agency primarily responsible for fish and wildlife management on park grounds.

Manchin said in the letter he was less than pleased with answers he’d received from Park Service officials when he started asking questions about those issues. He added that he would pull his support for the park if his and his constituents’ hunting-, fishing- and trapping-related requests weren’t met.

The text of the letter can be found here.

Hat tip: Chris Lawrence at West Virginia MetroNews.



Jon Jarvis

$300,000 for a hunting license?

Yep. That’s how much a New York man paid for a single Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep tag in Montana. And get this — the amount he paid was not even a record. From the Associated Press:

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A New York man has paid $300,000 for a license to hunt bighorn sheep in Montana this fall.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that the special auction license was bought last month by James Hens of East Bern, N.Y., at the Wild Sheep Foundation convention in Reno, Nev.
With the license, Hens will be able to take a bighorn in any Montana sheep hunting district this fall.
The Fish, Wildlife and Parks commission authorizes several groups to auction big-game tags. The groups get 10 percent of the money and the rest goes to FWP for research and habitat improvement for the species.
The most ever paid for a bighorn sheep tag was $310,000 in 1994.

The guys who attend the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep conventions tend to be wealthy. But you probably figured that out from the AP story.

Hunter needs rabies shots after killing rabid deer

For the second day in a row, I’m posting a rabies story. This one’s a little unusual, though. It involves a hunter and a rabid deer. Here’s the release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission:

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced that a Lancaster County hunter has undergone post-exposure rabies shots after harvesting and field dressing a deer on Jan. 20, in Valley Township, Chester County, that ultimately tested positive for rabies.
“The hunter contacted us about his concerns that the deer was unfit for human consumption,” said John Veylupek, Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO).  “The hunter said that he saw the deer standing in a creek, straining and growling.  He thought there was a coyote nearby from the sounds the deer was making.
“After gathering information from the hunter, as well as samples for testing, it was determined that the deer was rabid. Because the hunter had scratches on his hands and had field dressed the deer without wearing gloves, we considered this a human exposure and urged him to contact his doctor about post-exposure rabies shots.”
Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, reiterated the agency’s long-standing recommendations that hunters and trappers avoid harvesting animals that appear sick and to wear rubber or latex gloves when field dressing any mammal.
“All mammals are susceptible to rabies and can spread the virus in the right circumstances,” Dr. Cottrell said. “To prevent the spread of wildlife diseases, we encourage hunters and trappers to contact the Game Commission about any animals that they encounter that may appear to be sick.  Also, when field dressing any mammal, it is critical to wear rubber or latex gloves to prevent exposure to not just rabies, but also to other disease organisms.”

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.

Celebs don’t have to wait for Iowa deer tags

In Iowa, some deer hunters are more equal than others. If you’re Ted Nugent or Bo Jackson or Toby Keith, you pay a hefty premium and get to skip the usual three-year wait for a non-resident deer tag. From the Associated Press:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Some question whether Iowa needs to continue giving celebrities easy access to deer hunting in the state, but it appears unlikely that the promotional program will be scrapped.
The state program gives 75 celebrities, such as rocker Ted Nugent and former professional athlete Bo Jackson, an opportunity to buy a special out-of-state deer hunting permit each year. Other nonresidents might wait years to buy a similar permit.
The celebrity program began in 1998 to help promote the state as a top hunting destination.
Iowa Bowhunters Association President Randy Taylor tells the Des Moines Register that he’s not sure the state really needs the promotion anymore.
“There is no deer hunter nationwide who doesn’t consider Iowa one of the trophy hot spots in the nation,” Taylor said.
Iowa routinely receives thousands more requests than can be filled each year from out-of-state hunters. So the program isn’t popular with the people who sometimes wait years for one of about 6,000 nonresident permits to harvest deer of any sex.
A state committee ranks celebrity applications on a point system. The applicants most likely to win a hunting tag are the ones the state believes will garner the most media exposure for Iowa.
The celebrities pay the same $551 fee that other nonresidents pay for the hunting tag. Iowa residents pay $89 for theirs.
A few of the special celebrity tags are given to nonprofit conservation groups that often auction them off to nonresidents. Those auctions can raise $6,000 to $10,000, and the proceeds are split with the state.
Steve Dermand, who helps oversee the program for Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources, says he’s heard the complaints, but he doesn’t think anyone is ready to eliminate the program.
“When this started, Iowa was just becoming recognized as having a good deer resource. This came along during that growth time,” Dermand said. “Now, Iowa is high-enough profile, the state is in all the hunting magazines and where to go for whitetail.”
State Sen. Dick Dearden of Des Moines, chairman of the Senate natural resources committee, said he doubts the program will be eliminated. He also doesn’t expect a change in the number of general out-of-state tags.
So it’s likely that celebrities like country singers Toby Keith, Aaron Tippin and Miranda Lambert will continue to get access to deer hunting in Iowa along with professional hunters like Mark Luster.

Deer-kill statistics are sometimes deceiving

John McCoy photo

The old expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” was probably written to describe deer hunters.

No matter where hunters are from, they always seem to believe they’d have better success if they hunted somewhere else.

Case in point: Ask West Virginians if they’d rather hunt deer in the Mountain State or in Missouri, and they’d probably choose Missouri. But would they really have it any better in the Show-Me State? Let’s take a look at the harvest totals from both states’ recently concluded whitetail seasons.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Show-Me State hunters killed about 239,000 deer. According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Mountain State hunters killed slightly more than 133,000 deer. Advantage to Missouri, right?

Not necessarily.

Missouri’s land area is 69,704 square miles. Divide 239,000 by 69,704 square miles and you get a productivity average of 3.43 deer killed per square mile.

West Virginia’s land area is 24,229 square miles. Divide 24,229 by 133,000 and you get a productivity average of 5.49 deer per square mile.

Advantage West Virginia.

The devil in all this ciphering, is in the details. If statistics are available, it would be interesting to see which state produces more trophy bucks. Conventional wisdom would say Missouri. But West Virginia’s four bowhunting-only  counties account for about 75 Pope and Young Club bucks each year. That’s a slew of trophies.

The arguments could go back and forth forever, but the bottom line is this. Chances are many hunters in Missouri would jump at the chance to hunt in West Virginia, and vice versa. The grass is always greener….

Should hunting rifles be silenced?

Proponents believe silencers (or, more properly, suppressors) are a good idea because they’ll prevent the sound of hunters’ shots from disturbing nearby landowners.

I’m sure deer poachers everywhere are salivating at the thought.

If suppressors became legal in West Virginia, trophy bucks in the state’s four bowhunting-only counties would live live hard. The sound of gunshots, particularly at night, is one of the few ways law enforcement officers have of detecting poachers in those rugged, largely rural counties.

As far as I know, no one has yet proposed changing West Virginia’s law. But lawmakers in Kansas, Louisiana and Washington have already approved suppressors, and the Georgia Legislature just took up the issue. From the Associated Press:

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia Senate proposal would end the ban on silencers for hunting firearms.
Senate Bill 301 is sponsored by Sen. John Bulloch, who says allowing hunters to use silencers would keep them from disturbing their neighbors. The Ochlocknee Republican says hunters would still have to have a federal permit to possess a silencer and argues this does not create an unfair advantage for hunters.
“As our growth patterns have changed and we’re having more and more residential properties infringing on hunting properties,” Bulloch said. “If you have a silencer on your hunting gun, the noise would not disturb neighbors as bad. This doesn’t really have anything to do with fair chase. It’s about trying to be respectful to people in residential areas.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which Bulloch co-chairs. Sen. Ross Tolleson, a Republican from Perry who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, is the committee’s chairman.
Bulloch said the legislation was brought to him by the National Rifle Association. Reached by telephone, NRA spokeswoman Stephanie Samford said the organization does support the use of silencers, which she referred to as suppressors.
“There are several benefits to hunting with suppressed firearms,” Samford said. “Suppressors decrease the gunfire noise, which is important because a lot of hunters don’t always wear hearing protection. Suppressors also reduce recoil and muzzle rise. That allows the shooter to get into position for a follow up shot much more quickly and accurately.”
Samford said that silencers do not allow hunters to sneak up on animals because a sound is still emitted.
The NRA successfully pushed for similar legislation last year in Kansas, Louisiana and Washington, and supports legalizing silencers in all 50 states. Silencers are legal to possess and use for lawful purposes in most states, but require a federal permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The permit costs $200.

Hunting deer with spears

Atlatl technique

Well, technically what they’re doing in Missouri is hunting deer with “darts,” which is what atlatl enthusiasts call the 4-foot-long feathered spears they fling from primitive throwing sticks, very much like the ones Ice Age hunters used to take down mastodons.

A Missouri man recently became the first modern atlatl-wielding hunter to kill a deer in the Show Me State. Luke Boenker, 54, of Maryland Heights, Mo., took a four-point buck on the first day of the state’s recent firearm season for bucks. A few hours later, Scott Rorebeck of Trenton, Mo., bagged another one.

The Evansville (Ind.) Courier and Press has the full story. Fascinating stuff.

I can personally attest to the velocity at which an atlatl can fling a spear. While working on a feature story on atlatl enthusiasts a few years back, one offered me a chance to attempt a distance throw. I had a bad right shoulder at the time, and could only use my wrist and forearm to flick the dart downrange. It went 80 yards.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at the Outdoor Pressroom.