Wilt: Virginia should capitalize on its hunting

Published 9:46 am Friday, January 18, 2013

RICHMOND—State Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, comes from Rockingham County, where more bears are killed by hunters annually than any other county in Virginia.

He’d like to see the state capitalize on its natural wildlife resource to draw big game hunters, thus benefiting the economy.

For a third year after two unsuccessful attempts, Wilt introduced legislation to authorize the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to create separate special licenses for the hunting deer or turkey. Under current law, the agency is authorized to create a separate special license for hunting bear.

Late Wednesday, a House subcommittee voted to table the proposal.

Wilt believes separate licenses would give game officials a better grasp on what species are being hunted, which would allow for better management of wildlife for hunting.

“I’d like to see Virginia move in and (capitalize on) our wildlife industry,” Wilt said an hour before he planned to pitch the legislation before the subcommittee. “I would like to see us move in that direction. We are losing a lot of hunter revenue to other states. Management of game as an industry (is necessary). In order to do so, many of those states have separate licenses. That is one of the keys.”

Separate licenses would help game officials adjust kill rates, he said.

Right now, in addition to needing a hunting license in Virginia, a combination license that allows one to hunt bear, deer and turkey is required. The total cost for both for residents is $46.

A hunter since age 8, Wilt says he’s a proponent of wildlife and believes it’s a resource that can boost Virginia’s economy.

“My goal is to improve the species,” he said.

Wilt noted that Rockingham County’s bear population is a perfect example. According to statistics that date back five years, the county led the state in number of bear kills annually. In 2007, 159 were harvested; 2008, 201; 2009, 176; 2010, 186; and 2011, 170.

Clealan Dove of Harrisonburg in 2010 set a state record with a bear he harvested in Rockingham County. The 592-pound bear scored 31 9/16.

Hunting bear for more than 20 years in Virginia, Dove had never killed one until two years ago while hunting with his son, and grandson. He took the bear with a single shot to the neck with his .308 rifle.

The former state record belonged to a bear taken during the 1994-95 season by Roger Wyant, also in Rockingham County. Wyant’s bear scored 31 2/16 inches.

Wilt wasn’t too terribly optimistic that his bill would become law.

“It died the last two years, but I will give it the full vetting process,” he said.

Other pending legislation in Richmond includes:

• State Del. James Morefield, R-North Tazwell, has proposed Sunday hunting on private lands. Last year, the Senate passed legislation that would have allowed Sunday hunting. The subcommittee of the House of Delegates’ Natural Resources, Agriculture and Chesapeake Committee denied the proposal. Morefield is a member of the House of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Chesapeake Committee.

• Hunting on Sunday on private lands in Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Del. David Ramadan, R-South Riding, introduced the bill. Del. Scott Lingamfelter also proposed Sunday hunting on state and federal military bases, installations and facilities. House subcommittees on Wednesday tabled both proposals by a voice vote.

• Using a GPS or other electronic tracking devices to manage dogs when hunting or pursuing fox. Current law allows hunters to “follow” the dog and does not explain what “managing” might encompass. Charles Pointdexter, R-Glade Hill, introduced the bill. A House subcommittee on Thursday voted 7-0 to approve the measure.

• Hunting birds or animals with bow and arrow or crossbow on Sundays. On Thursday, a House subcommittee tabled the measure introduced by Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall.

• Shooting of muskrats and raccoons by landowners during the closed season without having to obtain kill permits from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The legislation also would allow landowners to trap beaver, muskrat and raccoons during the closed season. Legislation introduced by Wilt is pending.