I read with great disappointment the column written by David Hampton in Sunday’s Clarion Ledger entitled “Hunting bill just chasing rabbits”. In his column, David Hampton excoriated the great unwashed of Mississippi and deemed that any hunting bill that took the precious time in the Mississippi legislature as a “great detractor” and a “waste of time”.

House Bill 1282 authored by Rep. Bo Eaton has passed the House 86-30 and has now been referred to Senator Tommy Gollot’s Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Committee in the Senate. As I have written before, this is a good bill and it needs to pass.

Bowhunters and apparently newspaper columnists seem to be uniting against the bill that would provide a more liberal firearms season, particularly for Mississippi’s youth. Conversion of our traditional agricultural crop growing land to forestry coupled with more focused management has produced a deer herd that Mississippi’s current hunting interest simply can’t keep up with. Mississippi publishes an annual deer report called the Mississippi Deer Program Report. Mr. Hampton would be well served to read it. Here’s what it says in the 2009 report (page 72).

Condition data and field habitat evaluations conducted by biologists continued to document the effects of current and long-term overpopulation in some areas of the state. Degradation of deer habitat and noticeable substandard condition indicators such as low reproduction were prevalent. Many locations in the state have experienced on-going damage of native browse by overpopulation of the deer herd since the early 1970s. Deer habitat on poorer soils has been damaged at a greater level than habitat on more fertile soils. In addition, habitat damage on lower fertility soils requires a longer recovery time than habitats on more fertile soils such as the Mississippi Delta. Reduction of deer populations to levels where habitat can recover is unacceptable to most hunters. The result has been continued over-use of quality browse species by deer.

As for their recommendations?

Because of the extreme diversity in management needs across the state, landowners can implement these recommendations only if they are provided with a season framework that offers maximum opportunity or with special permits that allow additional opportunity. A liberal antlerless season framework is mandatory if landowners are to meet management goals. Antlerless opportunity should be provided to allow landowners in all regions of the state the opportunity to manage deer populations.

Translation? We ain’t killing enough deer. It’s hurting the herd. We have fewer hunters in the woods now and we have more deer than ever to manage. The quality of our wildlife is one of our state’s greatest assets. Deer hunting is HUGE business in this state and our liberal season brings in hunters to spend tens of millions of dollars in Mississippi every year. Three additional weeks of firearms hunting will increase that substantially.

Though I do agree with Hampton that deer seasons should be set by MDWFP and not legislators, the law is what it is now, so we have to work with what we’ve got. And this bill appears to have full MDWFP (aka “the experts”) support. Though I know Hampton to be better than that, the overall tone of his column came off as ill-informed and condescending on this particular issue.

HB 1282 deserves a quick committee vote in the Senate and an up or down vote on the floor. We will be watching HB 1282 like a hawk and will be posting committee votes and floor votes as they occur.