It's crazy, but it's politics

Mississippi's Legislature again ignores extending bow-hunting season, faces other controversial hunting bills


January 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

It's crazy, but it's politics
For several years, the Mississippi Bowhunters Association has been looking for help from the state legislature in confirming the right to hunt with bows during open gun seasons.

So don’t expect them to be happy after Monday’s deadline passed for introducing new bills in the state’s House of Representatives and Senate. No such “pro archery” legislation is on the table.

For the third straight year, no bills were introduced that would extend the only true archery season set in statute — the one that opens Oct. 1 and ends on the day before the first gun season begins.

“Doesn’t surprise me,” said Max Thomas, a longtime spokesman and legislative liaison for the statewide archery group. “It’s strange because there is no real opposition to it in the Capitol, but then no bills are ever introduced. I have gotten used to it.”

Here’s a brief history of the issue.

The MBA has opposed any moves to include firearms into its October and early November season. It has also fought to keep crossbows from being legalized across the board — although the MBA doesn’t oppose allowing crossbows for those with physical impairment — during the archery season.

The MBA’s positions often antagonized some legislators, including Rep. Blaine “Bo” Eaton, who was the chairman of the House Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee in 2010.

Eaton sponsored a bill in the 2010 legislative session that would have shortened the archery-only season and expanded hunting opportunities for hunters using both regular guns and primitive weapons. The bill passed the House but died in a Senate wildlife committee.

At the close of the legislative session, Eaton asked Attorney General Jim Hood for an opinion on whether archery equipment is legal during gun season, which while not specifically included in the law was always allowed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks.

The MDWFP’s opinion: Weapons of less effectiveness are legal during any season for more-effective weapons (i.e. primitive weapons and archery during any gun season, and archery during primitive weapons season).

Hood’s opinion: Wildlife officials have no such authority, since the section of the state code dealing with deer seasons does not mention archery equipment being legal during gun season.

NOTE: AG opinions do not carry the weight of law, but do provide public entities guidelines, and a level of protection in a court of law.

The AG’s office did say that wildlife officials have the authority to open “special” seasons as needed to help control deer populations. That opinion allowed the MDWFP to create a “special” bow season to coincide with open gun and primitive weapons seasons, which it has every year since.

But, bow hunters would like to see something a more concrete.

“Sure we would, and I really don’t see why we can’t get that,” said Thomas, of Madison.

Making matters worse this year for the MBA, there is a move in both the House and Senate to legalize crossbows during the archery season.

“We do not think crossbows are true archery equipment,” Thomas said.

House Bill 126 would require the MDWFP Commission to define what weapons are legal during primitive weapons and archery seasons, and in any “special seasons” it sets. In other words, they can include crossbows if they want to.

Senate Bill 2048 is much more direct — it would legalize crossbows for all hunters in all deer seasons.

Thomas said he wasn’t sure the MBA would fight crossbows as vehemently as in the past, even though the opposition is still very strong among its membership.

It appears that bow hunters, especially those represented by the MBA, would be open to a compromise. If crossbows are going to be legalized, which seems inevitable (if not this year, then soon), the MBA would probably be satisfied if their right to use bows during gun season is confirmed by legislation — and especially if their opportunity is increased.

Thomas said Mississippi should look at what other states are doing, like opening more days to archery. Biologists, Thomas said, have repeatedly said increased archery hunting time would not harm the resource.

Of course, the Attorney General has already said the MDWFP has the power to create a “special” season on its own, just as it did with archery during gun season.

Off the record, several legislators say they would prefer leaving it alone and staying status quo — letting the wildlife agency set special archery seasons. “It seems to be working,” has been said more than once.

Seems to me that is simply the Legislature ducking its responsibility.

Other bills sure to create controversy include:
• S.B. 2036 — would require all tree stands to be tagged with the name and address of owner.

• S.B. 2037 — would require all passengers in boats under 26 feet in length to wear a personal floatation device when under gas power.

• H.B. 66 — would require hunters to donate any unwanted meat from game animals to charitable organizations.

• H.B. 77 — would require hunters 66 years old and older to purchase a $10 combination hunting-and-fishing license (they are currently exempt).

• H.B. 226 — would allow shooting deer over bait during any open deer season.

• H.B. 568 — would give Mississippi residents a preference for draw hunts on state wildlife management areas.

Missing is a bill that would create a May squirrel season. It is another measure with little or no opposition that seems off the table because any piece of legislation that involves hunting seasons could be used as a vehicle bill to include other game animals.

I know, it’s crazy.

But it is, after all, politics.




View other articles written Bobby Cleveland