Thursday, November 1, 2012

State cripples special handicapped hunts, critics say

Organizations looking to set up special hunts for disabled veterans and other handicapped persons are finding that the state has installed speed bumps designed to more thoroughly regulate and monitor such events.

And the agency behind the maneuver – the Ohio Division of Wildlife –  says one of the reasons for the increased scrutiny and paperwork are complaints from non-special hunt bystanders; in other words, licensed hunters.

Maybe not the main reason, but a reason nevertheless, the Wildlife Division says.

It seems that in at least some cases hunters are objecting to giving special dispensation to disabled veterans and other handicapped individuals by allowing them use firearms in the hunting of white-tailed deer but outside of the state’s established firearms deer-hunting seasons.

Most of the hunts so far requested for a special exemption have been for private property.

Among those sportsmen who both have helped organize special handicapped hunts and likewise puzzled by the negative reaction to them is Troy Conley.

Conley is a southwest outdoors activist who closely monitors Wildlife Division affairs. He also helps organize hunts for disabled persons, utilizing willing private property owners.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been told that the agency has and is making decisions because of getting complaints from sportsmen in Ohio,” Conley says.

“Working with some guys down here on the issue of bringing dog field trials back to southwest Ohio we been told one of the reasons they did what they did with the field trials was because of these same types of complaints.”

Saying he is upset that the Wildlife Division is yielding to complaints from other hunters, Conley rhetorically wonders whether if he were to “rally enough troops will they make major changes to the squirrel season?” because he is chiefly an archery deer hunter.

“I hunt from a tree stand and these two activities can be in conflict with each other. This is just an example of what they seem to be doing,” Conley said.

What has brought the matter to a head, says Conley, has been his and others’ efforts to conduct a handicapped persons-only deer gun hunt in Adams County.

Yet because of the rigmarole of observing the requirements needed to host such a hunt, the best – if not, only – solution was to conduct an archery hunt for the handicapped individuals, Conley says.

For its part the Wildlife Division says that over the past few years, requests for special hunts or special seasons have increased.

“What started out as a couple of handicapped or youth hunts has now grown to requests for a couple of dozen each year,” says Scott Zody, the Wildlife Division chief.

Zody says these requests have ranged from NWTF Wheelin’ Sportsmen deer and turkey hunts for adults to special youth gun hunts to special youth pheasant/small game hunts.

“Part of the problem we were running into was some applicants submitting requests just prior to the date of the event – in one specific instance, a pheasant hunt in Erie County that the applicant wanted to hold on the weekend of deer gun season caused considerable concern,” also says Zody.

In order to “bring clarity and consistency to the process” rules were adopted that not only established special seasons for these types of activities, the new parameters build a time line for applications to be submitted in a timely manner and directs the applications to one location: i.e., the Wildlife Division chief, says Zody.

 “We also needed to provide consistent guidance to applicants on license/permit requirements, and specify that such events could not be held on public wildlife areas to prevent user conflict with other outdoor enthusiasts ; i.e., holding a special youth gun hunt in October/November and disrupting archery hunters or small game hunters.”

As far as complaints from other hunters go, Zody says he believes there were some, “but the main reason for adopting the rule was to bring some structure to the process before it grew too big to keep organized.”

“We are being flexible this year, recognizing that it is a new rule and we may not have gotten the word out to everyone before they started planning/organizing their hunts,” Zody says.

Further, says Zody, “Mr. Conley is no exception – the hunt he helps organize was scheduled for early October, and I told him that if the property owner(s) they were working with could not make accommodations for this year’s hunt, since the dates were already set, we would work with them on an exception – they chose to change to an archery hunt and avoid any conflicts.”

Even so, says Conley, he can’t help but wonder if the Wildlife Division ever asks a hunt dissenter if they have ever been involved with any of these events.

“ If they did ask this question I’d be willing to bet the answers would be ‘no,’” Conley said. “I think if these folks were encouraged to take part in one of these events it would change their opinion.”

Ultimately, says Zody, he wants to keep “an open mind for changes and adjustments to the rule heading into the next round of Open Houses and rule making.”

Thus, sportsmen who wish to contribute to the discussion should contact the Wildlife Division with their thoughts and concerns, Zody says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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