Dog hunters to get strikes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

By David Rainer

Dog deer hunters whose dogs trespass on private property will fall under a three-strike rule that was adopted at the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting at Lake Guntersville State Park last weekend.

The adopted regulation will focus on the individual dog owner instead of a certain club or certain county. Certain counties and areas within counties have previously been placed on a permit system that allowed clubs with permits to hunt deer with dogs. The permits were subject to revocation if problems persisted.

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The “dog encroachment” amendment states that a dog hunter whose animal has encroached on private property where no permission to hunt has been granted will receive two warnings. If another incident occurs, the dog hunter will be issued a citation.

“This is not a new regulation,” said Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “It is an amendment to the existing dog deer-hunting regulation that requires you to put your name and information on the dog’s collar. All this does is add verbiage where if you intentionally and knowingly let your dogs run on somebody else’s property, then that’s a problem.

“You get two written warnings by one of our Conservation Enforcement Officers (CEOs) before it becomes a violation. This has nothing to do with the permit system. The permit can be taken away at any point in time by the board. These are totally separate. Some people are confused and are saying it’s double jeopardy because they’re on the permit system.”

Sykes said the encroachment amendment will be in effect statewide, no matter if the area or county is on the permit system or not. He said the permit system will remain in effect because clubs on the permit system have had issues in the past.

“What this regulation does is it penalizes the problem,” Sykes said. “It penalizes the person with the dog that is causing the issue, not the whole club or county. They should be jumping up and down for this. The good folks should be saying this is exactly what we need because the bad dog hunters are giving us a bad name.

“I don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with it. This is a compromise because the landowners are looking at me, saying, ‘You’re giving them two freebies, two written warnings before there’s a problem.’ I think that’s a pretty good compromise between those who don’t want your dog on their property and those who want to hunt deer with dogs. Just keep the dog on your property, and there’s not a problem.”

Sykes said the old excuse that “my dog can’t read ‘No Trespassing’ signs” is no longer a valid explanation with the advent of modern technology.

“Dogs can be whistle-broke; they can be tone-broke,” he said. “You can use the technology we have used for 15 years with bird dogs. You put on a hot collar and you buzz them to make them come back. I use my dog to trail deer. I’m not going to let my dog go onto somebody else’s property unless I have permission to do so.

“It’s a pretty simple concept. Your privilege to hunt with dogs ends when it infringes on someone else’s property. The Department, and me personally, are not against dog hunting. Every time I go hunting, I go hunting with a dog. But private property rights have to be defended. People are buying land, spending money and want to go sit on a food plot and enjoy hunting the way they want to hunt. If your dogs are continually running on that property, that’s a problem.”

The way the new amendment will be enforced, according to Sykes, is when a landowner observes a dog on his property, the CEO will be called. The officer will then contact the owner to come retrieve the dog and the owner will be issued a written warning. After two written warnings, on the third violation, the dog owner will be issued a citation that will carry potential penalties similar to violations like hunting over bait or hunting out of season.

“That’s very lenient,” Sykes said. “On the third incident, you get a Class C Misdemeanor, which is just like the rest of our violations. Saying my dog can’t read land lines doesn’t work anymore. Thirty years ago, everybody hunted everybody else’s property. It didn’t matter. Land leases weren’t $20 an acre, and people weren’t paying $3,000 an acre to buy a piece of property to hunt on. Times have changed. And with technology, there’s no reason not to change with the times.”

The board approved a sunset provision for the dog encroachment regulation. The board will revisit the issue in 2019 and decide whether to keep it in effect.

The other main action taken by the Conservation Advisory Board was the change in regulations concerning waterfowl hunting at several wildlife management areas (WMAs) in north Alabama after extensive discussions with the waterfowl hunters in the area.

WFF recommended several changes for the Swan Creek WMA Dewatering Unit. Hunting will be closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to serve as rest days for waterfowl. Hunting will be allowed from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset.

In Jackson County, the Mud Creek and Raccoon Creek Dewatering Units will transition from a Monday-Tuesday closure to a Tuesday-through-Thursday closure. Also, gasoline-powered motors will be prohibited in the Mud Creek Dewatering Units and Raccoon Creek Dewatering Units north of Highway 117. Hunting hours are the same as Swan Creek’s.

At Crow Creek WMA, the Tuesday-through-Thursday closure will also be in effect with the same shooting hours as the other affected units.

At Swan Creek, Raccoon Creek, Mud Creek and Crow Creek WMAs, hunting will be allowed every day of the week during the last two weeks of the season. Hunters will be limited to 25 shotshells on all of the above units, and no vessels can be launched prior to 4 a.m. at any of the units.

Another WFF proposal that was approved by the board is a “bonus buck” program that will be implemented on certain WMAs to garner more awareness of the state’s public hunting opportunities. The program would allow hunters to harvest a buck on certain WMAs and specific hunt dates that will not count against their statewide three-buck limit. The hunt dates will be specified on the individual WMA map permits. The bonus bucks harvested must be brought to the check station at the WMA and validated by WFF officials to be legal.

The board also took the opportunity to honor several WFF officers who made valiant efforts to assist local law enforcement in the apprehension of two dangerous suspects.

Senior Officer Thomas Traylor was on patrol in Randolph County when he answered a call for assistance by county deputies, who were under gunfire from a suspect. One of the deputies had been wounded and the suspect was barricaded in a travel trailer. Officer Traylor returned fire and continued to fire until the wounded deputy could be rescued and transported via Life Flight helicopter. Traylor continued to provide assistance during the standoff that lasted several hours. The standoff ended when the suspect took his own life.

In an incident in Calhoun County, Lieutenant Mick Casalini, Senior Officer Adam Fuller and Officer Ben Kiser responded to a call from the Sheriff’s Office to assist in the apprehension of a suspect who allegedly torched a home, stole multiple weapons and fired on several deputies with semi-automatic weapons. The suspect fled to a wooded area that was familiar to the WFF officers, who pursued the heavily armed suspect and eventually apprehended the suspect without incident.