Sportsmen can send split-season turkey proposal to Assembly

Hunters at six southeastern N.C. counties could get an early start on the 2007 turkey season, if a Winnabow commissioner's proposal is approved.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission approved 54 changes to state hunting, fishing and trapping regulations at its March 1 meeting. Most rules changes underwent a series of public hearings across the state in January. However, one proposed change the WRC included a week after the March 1 vote did not go through the public-hearing process and is certain to cause controversy.

Stephen Windham, an at-large appointee to the WRC by N.C. governor Mike Easley, asked the WRC to adopt a split wild turkey season. Windham, of Winnabow, had prompted the WRC to float a proposal at the Jan. 2006 public hearings that would open the wild turkey season April 10 across the state each year. But that proposal met stiff opposition from turkey hunters and the N.C. chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. During 2005 public hearings, Windhaw had proposed a split spring season, with the season east of I-95 opening the first Saturday in April and counties west of I-95 opening the second Saturday in April. The WRC rejected both proposals after opposition during the Jan. 2005-06 public hearings.

After the March 1, 2006, meeting, following the WRC’s rejection of Windham’s proposed statewide April 10 opening date, he asked for an early-opening wild turkey season for just six counties — Robeson, Bladen, Pender, Columbus, Brunswick and New Hanover — as a substitute proposal. The commissoners agreed to the substitute proposal. However, that move has been characterized as a “mistake” because such substitutes must, by law, go to public hearings (which, in this case, would next occur Jan. 2007).

However, in order for Windham to get the split season in place for the 2007 spring season, he convened a special WRC teleconference the second week of March. He couched his special six-county change as a “tweaking” of the rejected April 10 season-opener proposal — which is proper procedure. Fellow commissioners then voted for a special early season the first week of April for the six counties and added a special youth-only hunt the last Saturday in March for those counties.

Critics, such as the NCWTF, believe the WRC may be in violation of state law that requires such major harvest and season changes to go to public hearings before the WRC votes to approve or reject. State law apparently says minor changes can be made to a proposal but not complete overhauls or substitutions that have little to do with an original proposal. However, a source said the WRC’s vote may be in compliance with state law if Windham’s proposal is considered only a “modification” of the April 10 proposal. A source told North Carolina Sportsman Magazine that Windham couched his proposal in that light.

At press time for this issue, the WRC’s decision to approve a special six-county early-season opening for District 4 wasn’t set in stone. The Legislative Rules Review Committee was to decide April 20 if Windham’s proposal violates the public-hearing requirement.

If the Legislative Rules Review Committee receives 10 letters from citizens before April 20 opposing Windham’s special early-season-opening for wild turkeys in the six southeastern counties, it will not vote on the proposal’s legality but must send the proposal to the floor of the General Assembly for debate. The address for the N.C. Legislative Rules Review Committee is: N.C. Legislative Rules Review Committee, Legislative Office Building, 300 N. Salisbury St., Raleigh NC 27603-5925.

Most turkey hunters and the NCWTF oppose the early season-opener for wild turkeys because of biological factors, such as a majority of hens not having mated with gobblers that early. There’s also a possibility of more hens being accidentally killed because they will be with gobblers. Also, the latest WRC state-wide turkey survey shows southeastern N.C. has some of the lowest turkey numbers in the state.

“If (the Legislative Rules Review Committee) approves (Windham’s proposal), it will be in effect next (2007) spring,” WRC executive director Dick Hamilton said. “However, if (post-season) surveys show (an early season) hurts the turkey population down there, it could be changed in the future.”

When the WRC allowed a split season in the past, many hunters “migrated” to the early-season area and put extreme pressure on turkey populations.

For a complete list of regulation changes either approved or disapproved by the Wildlife Resources Commission, log onto

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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