Hunting Report: New Hunting Regs Proposal

Chris Maroldy

Santa’s long gone, along with his scroll of naughty and nice, so now the list enthusiasts among us turn to checking New Year’ resolutions and “If I were king” dreams.

Way up toward top of mine for hunters and fishermen now is the annual list of proposals by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Com­mission for the upcoming hunting, fishing and trapping seasons. The Commission has opened the public comment period for planned regulations for the 2018-2019 license year, and it will run until Feb. 1.

You can submit comments online or send email or snail mail. The addresses as well as the list of proposals can be found by browsing www.ncwildlife.org

If you’re interested in attending a local public meeting about the new proposals, that’s a possibility too, though the  local meeting will have passed by the time you read this. If you are willing to drive, see the website for meetings elsewhere that you might make. Better yet, keep an eye peeled next fall for the an­nounce­ment of 2019 meet times and places. The gatherings are always fun to attend, often informative, and give you a chance to ask questions or propose changes for coming years yourself.

As far as I can tell, the big news for outdoorsmen will be in the areas of deer and bear hunting, and alligator management. The Com­mission didn’t put out an easily-readable summary of the proposals that I could find, which is a departure from years past. What they did put out (or that I found) was so un-readable that you shouldn’t bet the farm I didn’t miss something. But otherwise, I’m sticking with my story that there’s nothing earth-shattering going on, with the above exceptions.

I’ll tackle the deer regulations changes in this column, and leave the bears and alligators alone for now. First, it should be said that the proposed changes come after a lot of study, surveying, poll-taking and debate. The NC­WRC and hunters have been laying the groundwork for significant changes to the way Tar Heels hunt and manage deer for several years. You can make the case that this has been coming for much longer than that.

The proposed new rules appear beneficial to the goal that biologists and many hunters have had, which is to improve the age and sex structure of NC’s deer herd significantly. Not everyone will like the changes, but they make sense.

Here’s the skinny:

Biologists think that our deer herd can benefit by reducing young buck harvest, shifting the timing of harvest later in the year and ad­justing doe harvest rates. In surveys, 81% of respondents were willing to accept some change in the deer seasons in exchange for improvements to the hunting experience and benefit to the herd. Since hunter satisfaction in NC has declined since the last survey in 2006, and because more hunters are reporting deer numbers have decreased in the last three years, it’s smart of the NCWRC to get on this.

One significant additional note: 68 percent of the hunters who took the survey think there are too few mature bucks in North Carolina’s herd. That’s a stiff kick in the butt to game managers.

If you took part in the survey (the results of which were discussed at last year’s public hearings) you know it was a pretty exhausting “Pick one thing you like out of Column A and one thing you like out of Column B” type of thing that kept going on and on, shifting and permuting.  It seemed like it was turning over every conceivable combination of conditions and potential outcomes to arrive at what you really wanted out of deer season, if you were king but also had to think about it and trade and jigger.

It turns out that what hunters are mostly concerned about is the length of the gun season, with archery and muzzleloading seasons taking a back seat. This is somewhat to be ex­pected, and one result of that finding and the deer management goals in combination is —for instance—that the ML crowd in parts of the state is going to lose part of its exclusive season in favor of a longer gun season (possibly including added time in January). This is in service of the Commission’s goal to protect young bucks and provide greater opportunities for early doe harvest in some areas, while maximizing deer management opportunities during the rut.

Hunters will want to review the proposal and the new regs as soon as they can. They will need to check what management zone their land is in, since there are now five; how exactly the seasons have changed; and the new statewide buck and antlerless limits (two bucks, four does).

All in all, I think the rules make sense, at least in the Central Zone, where we are in Or­ange, Chatham and Durham counties. There will undoubtedly be some griping, but such is life. I’ve long thought we needed to lower the buck limit and/or go to a quality buck tag, and as a bowhunter I was no fan of the two week muzzleloader season. It took a week away from archery, and probably wasn’t doing any favors to young bucks.

But that’s just me. I’d love to hear any and all opinions concerning any zone you hunt, and I’m going to try to make a hearing just as soon as I can round up enough popcorn.