The West Virginia Annual Hunting Season officially started this past Saturday, with the opening of the squirrel season. When I was a young teenager, this was my favorite day of the year. I was in the woods about 8:30 am with my grandfather's shotgun purchased from Sears and Roebuck about 1946. This inexpensive 12 gauge is still one of the best of all the low-priced shotguns. I was able to get two on Saturday morning and watched the WV game that afternoon. I went out Monday morning and was able to bag five.
Statewide, there was probably approximately 100-150 thousand hunters of all ages in the woods on that day trying to bag a few bushy tails. Fortunately, the weather turned out to be quite favorable after the earlier part of the week.
I was talking to a conservation officer I have known for several years about common hunting violations. One of the most common violations (not really a game and fish violation but accounts for about 35 percent of the citations issued by the state natural resources police) is having a loaded firearm in or on a motor vehicle. This includes all terrain vehicles and anything attached to such a vehicle. The law clearly states that it is unlawful to have a loaded firearm in a vehicle for which all shells have not be removed. It is lawful to have a loaded clip in the vehicle, but it must not be attached to a firearm. It is also unlawful to have a crossbow with a nocked bolt in or on a vehicle.
I know from experience that it is very easy for a tired hunter to come back to their vehicle after a hard day of hunting and simply forget to unload their gun. But this is no excuse for this common violation. Hunters need to know their responsibilities when they go outdoors with a firearm.
Now, before I go any further, it needs to be emphasized that the vast majority of hunters are law-abiding citizens with no criminal records whatsoever. A large percentage of the citations issued by our protectors of wildlife are due to the fact that tired hunters are not paying attention to what they are doing.
Hunters also need to be reminded that they can not only be fined for thoughtless violations but they can lose their hunting privileges in West Virginia for excessive violations.
Some of the other violations include trespassing on private property without written permission. I can remember when I worked at Memorial General Hospital I asked a doctor if I could get written permission to hunt on his acreage. His reply was like this, "You don't need written permission, you just go." When I got out to his land in the Montrose area, it was not posted, fenced, or enclosed in any manner. I do not know what would have happened if I had been checked by a conservation officer.
Another common violation is shooting from a vehicle. In West Virginia, it is unlawful to discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle with the exception of a concealed permit holders. However, these permit holders can only shoot in self-defense. I can remember when the conservation officers showed videos of people shooting at the remote-control deer at the annual gun show several years ago. This is clearly a violation of the law by outlaw hunters who have no respect for the law. These people need to be cited and fined.
A lot of people do not know that it is unlawful to shoot across a public highway or road. It does not matter if the road is paved, unpaved, or a dirt road. I know a few people who have been cited for this offense.
When the blaze orange requirement went into effect in the 1980s, there were several people, including me, who were opposed to it. During the deer firearms season, shooting accidents have declined considerably. This appears to be a law that all hunters could live with. As long as the state keeps this regulation like it is, I will continue to support it. The first or second year after this law went into effect, a few hunters did get cited for not having their orange on. Today I think just about all deer hunters wear the required amount (400 square inches) of blaze orange during the deer firearms season.
Other common violations include exceeding the limit, but most of these citations are issued during the trout or fishing seasons. Hunting without a proper license is a rare offense in this state, but anyone foolish enough to do this should be cited by the natural resources police.
Poaching of deer, bear, and turkey has been a problem for several years. When ethical hunters see this going on, it is their responsibility to report it to the Division of Natural Resources as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.
The sooner this is reported the more likely law enforcement will be able to apprehend the outlaw. Observe and write down any information concerning the violation. Do not attempt to confront the violator. Let the professionals do their job. Be involved in protecting sport hunting by willing to appear and/or testify in a court of law.
When a violation is in progress, dial 911.
When not in progress: Call the law enforcement during normal working hours.