Potential Saturday firearms opener for ’09 in discussion

Columbus – A new attendance record could very well be set at the
DNR Division of Wildlife’s district open houses next March.

The open houses, held annually for hunters, anglers, and
trappers to express their desires and concerns to conservation
rulemakers, will be held March 2, 2008. One of the bigger topics of
conversation will no doubt be the notion of bringing in the
traditional firearms season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The proposal, just in the discussion stages for potential
implementation in 2009, is sure to draw a lot of interest given
that about 400,000 people hunted deer in Ohio this year.

The biggest drawback to moving back the opener from the
traditional Monday after Thanksgiving is the fact that deer gun
season has opened on a Monday for as long as anyone can remember.
The Division of Wildlife has learned over the years that Ohio
sportsmen and women are sometimes resistant to change.

“A lot of our hunters count on this Monday opener after
Thanksgiving,” said Dave Risley, administrator for wildlife
management and research. “And, a lot of people start putting in for
vacation and making their (deer hunting) plans in January. Our deer
regs (for 2008-2009) won’t be official until April.”

Thus the reason for the delay of one season for a Saturday
start, if it becomes a reality at all.

Since its peak of 45,296 on the gun opener in 2002, opening day
harvests have fallen in each year since, Risley said.

Some within the Division of Wildlife ranks aren’t sold on the
proposal, Risley said. Some detractors have said a Saturday opener
would essentially turn what is now a 9-day season with the
additional bonus weekend into a 6-day hunt.

“The concern is that people will hunt that opening Saturday and
Sunday and then go home,” Risley said. “They’ll come back the next
Saturday and Sunday, take a week off, and then come back and hunt
(the extra weekend).”

Still, hunter surveys are telling state conservation officials
that deer hunters by and large want more time in the field,
particularly on the weekend.

“It’s clear that our hunters want that Saturday opportunity,”
Risley said.

Another potential drawback to an earlier firearms opener is that
it would chop off two days that archers could be in the field, not
to mention small game hunters.

Depending on the feedback received between now and March, if a
Saturday opener appears favorable to the majority, the Division of
Wildlife would ask the rule-making Ohio Wildlife Council this
summer to pass a resolution requesting a Saturday opener for
2009.

The year-in-advance request would ostensibly not only satisfy
those hunters who make plans well ahead of the next season, but it
would also make it difficult if not impossible to change the
regulations in mid-stream.

“Assuming council would approve something like this (a year
early), that would make it really difficult for us to change our
minds,” Risley said.

In other potential changes, Risley said the division will work
to make the permitting process a bit more simple, given some
confusion with when this year’s new antlerless permits are valid
and when they are not.

“We’ll do our best to try to make it more understandable next
year,” he said. “But, in the feedback I’m getting back from the
field is that most of our hunters understand it.”

Another anticipated change for next deer season is some tweaking
of the bag in Zone C, which consists of 38 counties in central,
eastern, and southeastern Ohio. During the first six weeks of
archery season this year, more deer were harvested in 32 of the 38
counties compared to last year (Ohio Outdoor News, Dec. 7). The
jump in a good number of counties was so significant that the bag
will have to be re-examined in those areas, Risley said.

Larry Mitchell Sr., president of the League of Ohio Sportsmen,
said his group, the largest member conservation group in the state,
has not taken a position on the Saturday opener. Mitchell said
board members discussed the possibility at an early December
meeting but has not yet decided whether or not to support the
idea.

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