COLUMN: After denying the majority of deer hunters their choice, the Natural Resources Commission needs some new faces

I don’t typically call for people to lose their positions over a vote. However, when a person in a leadership role goes against what the public wants or what sound science demands, those folks need to be let go – even more so when it comes to managing wildlife.

If you didn’t know, after a year of postponing a vote to lower the annual buck limit from three to two, the Natural Resources Commission finally made its decision, voting 4-3 against lowering the limit. There are a few arguments of those supporting no change – commissioner and hunter alike – that I want to dismantle.

First, I want to touch on the monetary issues. In the August 2019 meeting at Tygart Lake State Park, Division of Natural Resources officials used data from the last time the buck limit was lowered in 2005. Following the change, we saw a bump in license prices to offset a decrease in license sales. But a lot can happen in 15 years, and one of those things that did change is the mindset around buck management. It’s been shown in states where there’s a one or two buck limit, the sex ratio gets better and hunters bag older bucks.

I’d like to look at Tennessee for my main example. At that same August 2019 meeting, Kip Adams, national conservation director of the Quality Deer Management Association, laid down the facts. Just like I mentioned, when Tennessee lowered their buck limit from three to two, not only did the ratio get better but, on average, older bucks were harvested. He also noted that when QDMA asks hunters to kill more antlerless deer, only 17% killed more than one. This is the biggest reason why leadership needs to establish a new limit. 

Sure, there might be a short-term financial impact, but think about where that money would be lost: The older generations. Older folks die, so we’re going to see a loss in revenue soon anyway – why not go ahead and fix a serious problem that way Gen-X, Millennial and Gen-Z hunters have better deer to hunt in the future? Further, a better hunting experience will lead to more people hunting in West Virginia as opposed to neighboring states. We might even get more non-resident hunters coming here because they know we have big bucks, kind of like how our hunters go to Ohio for that reason. Plus, WVDNR Director Stephen McDaniel noted that we have seen better revenue over the last three years from increased fishing license sales and oil and gas lease royalties and bonuses. 

Second, like it or not, there’s a shift in the hunting community. It’s not something you can deny or overlook, younger hunters and even Gen-X and some Boomers are wanting to chase mature bucks. The counter-argument is, “Well I want to fill my freezer!” 

Oh, you want to fill your ice chest? Please re-read my first point.

Right now and likely for many years to come, we don’t need to kill three bucks a year. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a big buck on public land other than in wilderness areas, and thank God the private land I hunt has strict rules for deer management. Until we have a larger effort from our natural resources leadership, whether the NRC or our state legislators, we’re not going to see those big bucks – even if a few scattered groups of hunters and landowners are partaking in quality deer management.

And for those concerned about “losing a buck” that have certain licenses, like a lifetime license, I can’t take this seriously either. Simply, if you can’t accept change for the betterment of the herd, are you truly a conservationist? 

Let me make this clear, of all three surveys taken, they all showed more than 50% in favor of lowering the limit. Further, over 1,000 people sent comments to the DNR in favor of lowering the limit. Seventy-two written letters opposed it. It’s very clear, commissioners Kenny Wilson, Dave Milne, Pete Cuffaro and C.K. Chambers, you are not listening to your people. And to you, I say, I hope one day soon you are no longer in a position of power. I’m not saying you’re bad folks, but I am saying this one vote shows you’re not on our side.

In closing, we need term limits for these commissioners. I can’t imagine, wherever I may be in the future, seeing something as important as this come up again and see some fogies standing in the way of change for no good reason. Do not forget, we made our voices heard and these four commissioners ignored us. Just because they hold more power than us does not mean we don’t understand the science of deer management – we are not stupid. But this vote sure was. 

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