Hunters must follow rules


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Jul 10, 2002
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Dec. 7, 2002, 6:18PM

Hunters must follow rules
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
Properly completing Texas' deer tagging and logging requirements takes an ink pen, a knife, all of a minute or two and demands minimal cogitation.

Many deer hunters, however, can't seem to figure out the simple rules.

Tagging violations are the most common citation Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens issue deer hunters.

"Either the hunter hasn't tagged the deer or hasn't properly completed the tag by cutting out the date," said David Sinclair, chief of wildlife enforcement for TPWD's law enforcement division. "That has been the No. 1 (deer-related) violation for several years."

This hunting season, wardens are seeing another lapse by deer hunters, but one that is a bit more understandable than not completing the deer tag.

This is the first season deer hunters are required to complete a "white-tailed deer log" in addition to completing and attaching a tag to any deer they take.

The log is printed on the back of Texas hunting licenses. Hunters who take a whitetail are required to fill in the log, which includes noting if the deer is a buck or antlerless, the county in which it was taken, name of the property on which it was taken and the date the deer was taken.

The log, like the written information required on the tag, must be filled in using ink, not pencil.

Wardens are finding a fair number of deer hunters are not completing the log, and many of the hunters appear not to even be aware of the new requirement.

Not properly completing the deer log can bring a hunter a citation for a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of as much as $500 -- the same penalty for improperly tagging a deer.

Because this is the first year of the deer log requirement and so many hunters seem unaware of the new requirement, state wardens often are issuing warnings instead of citations to those found in violation, Sinclair said.

Wardens are cutting no slack for regular tagging violations or other infractions of hunting regulations.

One of the common hunting-related violations wardens see is failure of a hunter to have required hunter education certification.

To legally hunt any game in Texas, a person born on or after Sept. 2, 1971, and 17 years old or older must have passed a state-certified hunter education course. That means every Texas hunter between 17 and 31 is required to have the hunter education certification.

The requirement is prominently noted in hunting regulation booklets. But proof of having passed a hunter education course is not required to purchase a hunting license. A "hunter education required" notation is printed on the licenses of those license buyers who fall within the requisite age bracket but have not completed the course and received their certification number.

Most license buyers never notice the notation.

Game wardens do.

Over the first three months of this hunting season (Sept. 1-Nov. 25), TPWD wardens wrote 1,951 citations for violations of the hunter education certification requirements, Sinclair said. Those cited with the Class C misdemeanor violation face a fine of as much as $500.

But the law that created the hunter education requirement gives violators a chance to avoid the penalty. If a person cited for violating the hunter education requirement takes and completes a state-certified hunter education course within 90 days of receiving the citation and presents the certification to a judge, the judge must dismiss the case.

While the number of citations for not having required hunter education certification rises each year as more hunters fall under the requirement, citations for one of the hunting violations considered most egregious by many hunters and certainly by landowners -- poaching -- have been falling.

In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed a bill making the taking of deer, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep without the permission of the landowner (poaching) a state jail felony. Under the new law, a person convicted of a felony for poaching faces serious fines, jail time and the loss of the right to own or even possess a firearm, effectively ending that person's hunting career.

When poaching deer was a misdemeanor, TPWD wardens annually issued 400 to 500 citations for deer poaching, Sinclair said. Since the felony statute became law, that number has dropped to fewer than 100 citations each year, he said.

"(The felony possibility) got people's attention," Sinclair said.

Wardens this deer season are paying particular attention to a six-county area of the Post Oak Savannah west of Houston, not because of poaching problems but because of a major change in deer hunting rules in those counties.

In an effort to improve the overall health of deer herds in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Washington counties, TPWD imposed an "experimental" regulation restricting which buck deer are legal game.

In all counties except those six, a "buck" deer is defined as a deer having a hardened antler at least one inch long protruding through the skin.

In the six counties, though, hunters may take a buck deer only if that deer's antlers meet one of the following requirements:

·At least one antler is unbranched.

·At least one antler has six or more points one-inch long or longer.

·The inside spread between the antler's main beams, as measured at their widest point, is 13 inches or more.

The regulation is designed to cut harvest of young bucks, thus improving the age structure of the buck population.

But for the 25,000 or so hunters who pursue deer in those counties, the new rule places a burden to make certain any buck at which they shoot meets the requirements. The penalty for shooting an illegal buck could be as much as $500.

TPWD wildlife staff said the antler restrictions could put as much as 75 percent of the bucks in those counties off-limits to hunters.

Shannon Tompkins covers the outdoors for the Chronicle. His column appears on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

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