State regulations are for the hunted and the hunter

·9 min read

Sep. 18—ALBANY — Following the opening of Georgia's early teal season last weekend, I have been dismayed by the number of posts on social media by hunters showing their harvest of other waterfowl species. In many cases, these posts include jocular or disparaging statements reflecting an open disregard for current hunting regulations.

This mono species season requires hunters to be skilled in identifying waterfowl on the wing to ensure only teal are harvested. For some neophyte waterfowlers this is obviously a challenge. For others posting their hunt harvest on social media it seems to be unimportant.

Ironically, the actions of these scofflaws are directed at a hunting regulation that was established to provide states with more flexibility in managing their hunting regulations. The early teal season allows Georgia sportsman to take advantage of the seasonal migration of these colorful fowl, which breed primarily in Canada. In 1970, states in the Atlantic flyway, which includes Georgia, were allowed to provide their sportsmen an opportunity to shoot during this migration, which generally takes place almost two months prior to the regular waterfowl season.

The sport of hunting can be traced back to antiquity with Egyptian murals depicting a wide variety of hunting scenes. The first known written restrictions are found in Deuteronomy 22:6 in which Moses decrees the protection of the hen. Apparently in an effort to ensure the continued propagation of game.

The writings of Marco Polo give the first indications of hunting regulations being directed toward conservation.

The Great Khan was not only a great hunter but one who appreciated the fact that wildlife must have a place to live, with plenty of food, and that it must not be taken during the breeding season if it is to survive and increase. The Khan apparently allowed his subjects to hunt freely as long as they did not trespass on his preserves. He hired game keepers to ensure that game was not harvested during their breeding periods. Many of his innovations would not be replicated for centuries.

Prior to the Norman conquest in England there were no restrictions against hunting, except on Sundays. Later, a law prohibited monks from hunting with dogs. However, all other classes were allowed to hunt across the country as long as they did not disturb the king's preserves. Following the conquest, the ownership of game was taken over by the king and only those of nobility were allowed to enjoy the hunt.

The establishment of hunting regulations, or lack thereof, in the United States can trace its roots back to the European colonization of the continent. As these immigrants arrived here, one thing they did not want to replicate was the concept of game ownership.

With a seemingly unlimited abundance of game, the Americas were truly a hunter's paradise. The availability of harvestable wildlife aided the survival of the earliest settlers, and the search for it led to continued westward "discovery." It was not the early settler looking to till the land that spurred exploration. It was the exploits of trappers and hunters seeking game that opened new territory and trade with the native inhabitants.

Bison, beaver and deer were plentiful but not the only species ravaged by "market hunters." Growing urban populations created a demand for protein that was not supportable by early agrarian practices. In the early 1800s, stores and butcher shops across America resembled the "wet markets" of modern Asia and Africa with the carcasses of freshly killed game hanging on display for buyers.

All species of fowl, and game small and large were harvested and advertised for sale. One market hunter boasted of personally harvesting 139,000 birds for the market. Between the mid-1800s and 1910, millions of birds and mammals would be sold for food, fur and plumage.

While sport hunting had little comparative impact on game populations, the cumulative effect of market hunting, the clearing of forest for agriculture and the draining of wetlands had led to the decimation of the nation's once plentiful wildlife resources.

Limited efforts to stop the carnage had been initiated as early as 1646 when Rhode Island created the first game law protecting deer. In 1694 Massachusetts closed the deer season, and the nation's first game warden was hired in Delaware where "Deer Wardens" were charged with controlling the harvest there. These early efforts are reflective of the legal opinion that the game belonged to the states to be held in trust for the citizens with the landowner determining who could hunt on a given property.

The first hunting license in America was instituted by New York in 1864, and the first limit on harvest or "bag" limit was initiated by Iowa in 1878. California would establish the first game refuge in 1870.

Sport hunting began to rapidly expand following the American revolution. By the mid-1800s sportsman publications became popular, and hunters began to organize into groups seeking to protect the remaining wildlife. The Massachusetts Fish and Game Association was the first statewide association, founded in 1874, and is still active today. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, was the first national game conservation society and is also still active today.

In response to a nationwide call for game management by sportsmen, states across the country began to respond by establishing game laws and licensing requirements. Roosevelt called the governors from all states together in 1908 to address the problem. By 1911, the situation was so dire that John B. Burnham, president of the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, stated, "This country stands today at the parting of the ways in the manner of field sports. It faces today the question of whether free shooting shall continue, or whether the European system of preserves and posted lands is to become universal."

Although game laws and regulation would remain largely the business of the states to develop and enforce, Congress passed the Lacey Act in 1900 to stop the interstate transportation and shipment of game to market. In 1913, the Weeks-McLean Act was enacted to establish federal jurisdiction over migratory game. In 1913, this power was expanded under the Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada.

In 1934 the Federal Duck Stamp Law was implemented with the fees going to wetland restoration to save waterfowl breeding and feeding areas. The first federal license cost a dollar and generated $600,000 the year it was implemented. In 1961, Congress appropriated $150 million to be repaid by future duck stamp sales. This program continues to have significant impact today.

One of the most significant Congressional actions was the passage of the Pittman-Robinson Act in 1937, which established an excise tax on sporting firearms and ammunition. Funds generated by this tax are earmarked for conservation projects enacted by the state wildlife agencies. To date, the act has raised more than $18 billion for conservation.

Today, with the exception of migratory birds, the majority of game laws, including seasons and bag limits, are set by the states. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is responsible for the establishment and enforcement of game regulations in Georgia.

DNR utilizes the expertise of the agency's biologists as well as public input to determine the annual seasons and bag limits for game species in the state. These are posted annually online and in a hard-copy publication. These regulations are established with the goal of not only protecting game species but providing Georgia hunters with opportunities of sustainable harvest.

The regulations change annually in response to changing conditions reflected by harvest surveys and biologist observation. The recent change in Georgi's turkey regulations are a prime example, reflecting a reduced bag limit and a delaying of the season opening by a week.

A hard copy of regulations is a 72-page document defining seasons, bag limits, legal shooting hours, safety requirements, licensing, and availability of public hunting opportunities on more than a million acres of wildlife management areas. This information is also available at www.gohuntgeorgia.com, which is continually updated.

Although the majority of seasons and bag limits are established on a statewide basis, hunting pressures or game populations may lead to regional or county differences. Therefore, it is important that hunters check the regulations for the area they will be hunting to ensure they are in compliance.

The following is a list of some of the opening dates and seasons by species. However, as previously stated, some counties and regions will vary on the length or closing of each season, so it is advisable to check the actual DNR regulations.

Squirrel: Opened Aug. 15, runs through Feb. 28, limited to 12 per day.

Deer: Archery season opened Sept. 11. Primitive weapons season opens Oct. 9. Modern firearms season opens Oct. 16. These seasons run through Jan. 9. However, there are many variables related to either-sex or antlerless harvest during this period. Check county and regional specifics before hunting during this period.

Raccoon: Opens Oct. 15, runs through Feb. 28, limited to 3 per day.

Opossum: Opens Oct. 15, runs through Feb. 28. No limit.

Quail: Opens statewide Nov. 13, through Feb. 28, limited to 12 per day.

Rabbit: Opens Nov. 13, runs through Feb. 28, limited to 12 per day.

Turkey: Opens April 2, runs through May 15, limited to 2 gobblers per season.

Season for other species and trapping are addressed in the annual regulation's booklet or online. The season for migratory birds is established in coordination between state and federal agencies and has a wide array of variables, so paying attention to these details requires a detailed study of the state and federal regulations.

Interestingly, hunting is in many regards a self-regulated sport. An avid hunter may go years without coming in contact with a DNR officer while they are in the field. Therefore, it is all the more important that we act wisely in regard to the game laws that have been established to ensure we have viable game populations the next season and the next generation.

After more than half a century in the field, I know from personal experience that these efforts and regulations work. As a nimrod hunting in the 1960s, the discovery of a deer track was rare, much less actually seeing a deer. Turkey were nonexistent and wood ducks were a rarity. Today, healthy populations of these and other species exist across the state.

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