Homochitto National Forest dog-hunting proposal sparks emotions

Dog hunting for deer has a long history in the Homochitto National Forest, but conflicts with landowners who don't want dogs running deer on their property has resulted in a proposal to place more regulations on dog hunters.

Proposal to be addressed during Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks meeting

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officials are meeting tomorrow (May 24) to decide if new, more-restrictive regulations should be placed on deer hunters using dog hunters within the Homochitto National Forest.

And the proposal has stoked up passion within the deer-hunting community.

“Good. (S)top dog hunting all together,” Randall Orman posted on Mississippi Sportsman’s Facebook page. “(It) wouldn’t bother me; no sportsmanship in letting dogs do the huntin(g).”

The feelings were equally as strong from those opposing any change.

“You know, (w)e don’t bash you non-dog-hunting folks, and we don’t bother y’all,” Amy Thurston responded in the same Facebook thread. “(I)t’s our right, and why can’t y’all leave us the hell alone! I’m sick (and) tired of people running their dang(ed) mouths!”

And in Thurston’s note is a common thread that is heard on both sides of the issue: “Just leave us alone.”

Canton attorney Mark Morrison, who serves as president of the Mississippi Hunting Dog Association, said his group knows user conflict is at the core of the debate.

“We clearly understand the difference in landowner rights and hunting privileges,” Morrison told MS-Sportsman.com. “And we realize that certain steps are necessary to address the long-running conflicts between landowners around Homochitto National Forest and a very small minority of unethical dog hunters that project a negative image of our sport.”

That doesn’t mean the dog-hunting advocacy group isn’t concerned with the proposal. According to Morrison, the MHDA’s primary concern with the proposed regulation is that it is too broad.

The proposal, which will be decided upon during a Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks meeting at Black Prairie WMA slated for tomorrow (May 24) at 1:30 p.m., would require all hunters using dogs within the national forest to obtain free permits, which each hunter in a dog-hunting group must have on his person during a hunt. The permit also must list each person participating in the hunt, and permit numbers must be displayed on the rear window or all vehicles used in the hunt.

Also, every dog must be outfitted with functional tracking collars and be tagged with the permit number and its owner’s contact information.

While the MHDA doesn’t have a problem with the tracking-collar requirement or the implementation of a permit system, they do have concerns about the group permits and the inclusion of all hunting dogs (not only deer dogs) in the regulations.

“Small-game hunting dogs are not part of the problem on the Homochitto,” Morrison said. “And while we appreciate the fact that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks wants to be fair, we feel that the regulation goes farther than is necessary.

“When you get an ingrown toenail, you don’t cut off your leg to solve the problem. But that is exactly what this regulation does.”

Morrison also is concerned with the enforcement issues that could arise with the issuance of group permits. According to Morrison, issuing group dog-hunting permits would be akin to issuing a family driver’s license instead of an individual driver’s license for each family member.

“Basically the entire issue is about accountability,” Morrison said. “And we are 100 percent in favor of all hunters, whether they hunt with dogs or not, to take responsibility for themselves and be accountable for their actions.”

Despite what you might suspect, other user groups and landowners near the Homochitto National Forest share common ground with MHDA.

“We would have preferred that the regulations apply to only deer dogs, since that is the root of the problem,” Mississippi Coalition for Ethical Deer Hunting member Preston Sullivan, who lives in the heart of the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County. “Hunting deer with dogs carries inherent risks that other dog hunting doesn’t have.

“It is much harder to control a dog running a deer than one chasing a rabbit or treeing a squirrel or coon.  However, we understand the reasons it had to be all inclusive.”

According to Sullivan, the coalition believes the regulations will help weed out the outlaw dog hunters and reward the ethical dog hunters.

There is a long history of property rights and hunting abuse in the Homochitto National Forest region. Beginning in 2009, a questionnaire was circulated to area landowners to document these abuses by unethical deer dog hunters.

More than 130 landowners representing 53,000 acres of private land near the Homochitto National Forest completed the questionnaire with the following results:

• 73 percent  responded that their still hunts had been ruined by dogs on their land
• 62 percent said dogs had been intentionally turned loose on their land
• 46 percent reported dogs running across their land at all hours of the day and night
• 27 percent reported witnessing road hunting

In short, landowners say they want exactly what dog-hunters like Thurston would like.

“Basically, those of us that own land near the Homochitto National Forest just want to be left alone,” Sullivan said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Go to our reports forum and let us know what you think about this proposal.

MS-Sportsman.com will report the final decision on the proposal as soon as possible.

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