A proposal to change the historical deer and bear hunting seasons in the mountains has been axed following push back from hunters.
The change would have meant an end to the cultural tradition of deer hunting during Thanksgiving week and would have created a partial overlap of deer and bear hunting seasons, which have always been segregated.
“Bear hunters argued that they didn’t want deer hunters shooting their dogs,” said Mike Carraway, a biologist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in the mountain region.
The wildlife commission held public hearings across the state to gather feedback from the hunting community. The biggest opposition came at the hearing held in Haywood County last month, where hunters turned out en masse to speak out about the proposal.
While some deer hunters expressed concerned that bear hunters running dogs might flush and scare the deer, the majority of opposition to overlapping seasons came from the bear hunters, Carraway said.
The proposed change stemmed from new research into prime deer breeding season.
“Our hunting seasons have been in place for more than 40 years,” Carraway said. “It is our responsibility as an agency to manage our hunting seasons based on what we know today rather than 40 years ago.”
Deer in the mountains breed later in the fall than elsewhere, a biological adaptation to the colder climate. Later breeding in turn means calves are born later in spring, after foliage has leafed out, Carraway explained.
The proposal called for delaying the opening day of deer gun season until the Saturday following Thanksgiving — as opposed to the beginning of Thanksgiving week — to give more deer a chance to breed before hunters took to the woods.
In exchange, deer season would have been extended through Christmas. That would still give hunters a holiday week to enjoy their sport, but it would be during Christmas instead of Thanksgiving.
“They didn’t want to make that trade-off,” Carraway said.
That’s because the tradition of deer hunting over Thanksgiving has deep cultural roots, according to Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, was among those who spoke up at the public hearing in Haywood.
“This is a rite of passage for families with strong sportsman heritage,” Clampitt said. Clampitt commended the wildlife commission’s decision to back off the proposal.
The proposed shift in deer season would have a side effect of creating a partial overlap of deer and bear season — which both groups of hunters seemed to oppose at the public hearing in Haywood.
“Several of them made comments that they agreed on something for a change, and that was opposition to the overlapping seasons,” Clampitt said.
Carraway doesn’t think there would have been many conflicts between bear and deer hunters, however, because most deer hunting is mostly done on private land and bear hunting is mostly done in national forests and state game lands, based on game harvest records.
“In all likelihood the bear hunters would be hunting public lands and the deer hunters would be hunting private lands,” Carraway said.
To make up for the overlapping seasons, bear season would have opened two weeks earlier in October, and bear hunters would have the woods to themselves during this time. Bear are also more active during early fall because they’re in the final throes of fattening up before hibernation. But some hunters were worried hunting during this time would hurt the bear population, although Carraway doesn’t agree.
“The bear population is still booming,” Carraway said.
There are other options for restructuring hunting seasons to accommodate what’s now known about deer breeding periods in the mountains, and could be done in way that still preserves the cultural tradition of Thanksgiving deer hunting.
“There are all kinds of possibilities for adjusting one way or the other that could be considered for future proposals,” Carraway said. “We are still dedicated to managing the deer hunting season and the bear hunting seasons and the populations to the best of our ability.”