New rules come early for sportsmen

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 06:43 PM

At age 14, young Cole Houston of Alexander County could hardly sleep the night before last year’s first Saturday of April.  The young man had bagged his first deer the fall before and was now more eager than ever to become a turkey hunter.  Since youth under the age of sixteen had been the benefactors of a special one day youth turkey season for the past few years, Cole was delighted he could hunt a week earlier than everyone else.  In addition, it was the best time of the spring mating season for hunting turkey as the big toms were just getting into the peak breeding season.

With an excellent turkey hunting location, good equipment and a lot of patience, the young hunter was able to end his special one day turkey season with a big gobbler.  Now a year older and only six weeks away, the young hunter and literally thousands of other North Carolina youth, both male and female, are looking forward to their early special youth day turkey season.

However, this spring the state’s young turkey hunters will be in for a surprise.  Due to some last minute decision making by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission at their regulation adoption meeting this past fall for the 2013-14 season, the 2013 spring youth season has a major change.  This year the one day youth turkey season set for the first Saturday of April, will be extended by six days, thereby creating a one week long youth only season.

It was early last year when NCWRC staff members held internal meetings to discuss possible changes to the states hunting, fishing and trapping regulations.  All of these proposals would end up being what the agency would take before the public to get their input at a series of public hearings that were held this past September.  The rule changes would be the proposed changes that would go into effect during the 2013-2014 hunting and fishing regulation year starting August 1, 2013.  The Commission then met this past November to decide which proposals would become law.  Three of these proposals that had been proposed for next year’s season would get some last minute attention by the commissioners that would end up moving their start date up by several months.  One of these would be turning the youth day turkey season into a week long season that would go into effect this spring.  Another would put the firearms possession rules on game lands in compliance with recent changes to the states firearm possession and concealed carry laws.  The third change would actually reverse the states long running hunting on game lands rule and make hunting with firearms the most restrictive since the game lands program began over forty years ago.

In an unusual move by the WRC, the proposed week long youth only turkey season that was to go into effect the spring of 2014 will in fact go into effect on the first Saturday of April this year.  Running from Saturday April 6 through Friday April 12, youth under the age of sixteen will be able to hunt male or bearded wild turkey.  While not required to have a hunting license, youth that do hunt will still need to have valid big game tags.  In addition, the youth must have a licensed adult with them.  This year the adult will also be able to have more than one hunting youth with them.  This in part is due to the agency’s increased initiative towards new hunter recruitment.  Another requirement of the youth season is that only one legal bird is allowed to be taken by each youth.  With this rule change not being in the current regulation digest, many sportsmen will not find out the details of it in time.  However, the word of mouth of this new change may spread quickly.

Recent changes by the General Assembly to the state’s firearm possession and concealed carry laws required changes by the WRC to firearms possession on the state’s game lands.  As a result, beginning January 1, 2013 it is lawful to possess any legal firearm on the game lands at any time of the day or year and during any activity.  This would mean that a bow hunter during the archery season could be hunting with his archery equipment while possessing a high powered rifle. 

In what many see as an ill-advised kneejerk reaction attempt to curtail potential poaching by the new firearm possession on game lands rule, the agency passed a rule that basically makes hunting on game lands the most restrictive in its forty year history.  The rule change makes it unlawful to hunt anything on the game lands with a firearm except during the open season for game birds or game animals.  Then the only firearm that would be allowable is whatever firearm is allowed for the game bird or animal in season at the time.  In reality the only real impact that this would have is penalizing legal hunters that may want to hunt coyote, crow, feral swine or ground hog from early September until mid-October with anything other than a shotgun or archery equipment.  This restriction would also apply for hunting these species with the exception of crows, during the spring turkey season.  As many see it, if a poacher is allowed to carry a firearm year round on the game lands, then dove and goose hunt with a shotgun during September and early October as well as deer hunt with archery equipment, the fact that he can’t hunt coyote or hogs with a rifle is not going to keep them from poaching if they choose.  This would then be the case during the spring five week turkey season.  The turkey hunter would hunt turkey or coyote or hogs on the game lands with shotgun or bow but a non-turkey hunter, while allowed to be on the game lands with any weapon, could not hunt coyote or hogs with a rifle.  This prohibition would not apply to private lands. 

• Tony Robinson can be reached at