Georgia Gets 12-Deer Limit, Antler Rule For 2002

Legislative changes give deer season a new look in many ways.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | May 1, 2002

Major changes to deer-hunting regulations enacted by the General Assembly will take effect for the coming deer season. Significant was the change that allows deer hunting to begin one week earlier in September. The upshot is that firearms season will be one week longer than normal. Statewide, archery season will open on September 14, P/W season on October 12, following by gun season on October 19. By law, the Southern Zone gun season always ends on the first Sunday following January 5. This season, that day is January 12, 2003, giving Southern Zone hunters 86 days of firearms hunting compared to 72 last season — the longest firearms season held in modern Georgia hunting. Counting archery and P/W season, Southern Zone hunters have 121 days, one third of the calendar year!

Legislature Ups Deer Limit, And More Big Changes

On Friday, April 12, 2002, the House and Senate of the state legislature adjourned and went home, ending the longest, most exhaustive General Assembly that anyone can remember. Battles over the final map of redrawn political districts forced delay after delay — this, in fact, is the first GON legislative wrap-up you have ever seen printed in the May issue.

It is also the longest legislative wrap-up you have ever seen in GON. Never have there been as many pieces of legislation that dealt with game and fish laws, and never as many with the level of interest and controversy as those that were introduced this year. To make matters worse, most of the outdoor-related bills were caught up in a tornado of amendments, delays and unexpected turns. The four most significant proposed changes did not meet their fate until the final hours of the last day of the 40-day session.

Before we report on the details, here’s a quick list of the high-profile initiatives and their final status. (Note: All bills that passed must be signed by Gov. Roy Barnes before becoming law, an action that is expected).

• The changes proposed in House Bill 1158 passed the legislature. This gives Georgia a 12-deer limit (two antlered bucks and 10 antlerless deer). It also starts the deer archery season one week earlier in September, thereby increasing gun season by one week. Finally, it sets a statewide antler restriction on bucks: at least one of the two bucks a hunter can kill must have a minimum of four points, an inch or longer, on one antler beam.

Beginning with the 2002-03 season, all Georgians will hunt under an antler restriction. The new law states that of the two antlered bucks you can kill in a season, at least one of them must have a minimum of four points, an inch or longer, on one antler beam. Both of your bucks could be like the one on the right, but you could not kill two like the smaller buck on the left. Countywide antler rules, like those in Dooly County, still apply.

• The “crossbow bill,” House Bill 1174, passed. All licensed hunters, not just physically-disabled hunters, will be able to take a crossbow to the woods this deer season. Crossbows are now legal during deer archery season, during the P/W season and during firearms season. They are also now legal for turkeys, bear and hogs. Scopes will be legal on crossbows.

• Both HB 1095 and Senate Bill 369, two different versions of legalized deer baiting, failed. However, a slight change was made on the final day that adjusted state regulations regarding baiting. Previously, DNR Law Enforcement worked under guidelines that stated hunters must be at least 300 yards away from bait, and out of sight of it, to be hunting legally. State law now puts that line at 200 yards, although the hunter still must not be able to see the bait site.

Of Baiting and Crossbows

Though a few of the bills that GON followed this year passed the legislature in the usual way, a group of significant bills became tangled up in procedures that were more difficult to follow, all of it surrounding HB 1174, the crossbow bill. The root cause, apparently, was the controversy surrounding the baiting issue.

By late March, Senate Bill 369 by Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) was the surviving baiting bill. This version would legalize hunting deer over bait around feeders of any type that protect the food from the weather, thereby preventing mold, and thus aflatoxin poisoning in wildlife. However, the legalization would be in the Southern Zone only. This part was controversial in itself — GON’s latest VOTES survey suggests that a strong majority of hunters oppose legalization in only one deer zone, including some who support the idea statewide.

Ron Woodall, of Mitchell, killed this Hancock County 8-pointer on October 13, 2001. He killed it with a crossbow, which he could use under his permit as a hunter with permanent physical disabilities. Under legislative changes, the crossbow permit is now a thing of the past — any licensed hunter can use a crossbow to hunt deer, turkeys, bear and hogs.

SB 369 had already passed both the Senate Natural Resources committee and the full Senate, the latter by a vote of 39 to 11. It was then on its way to the House Game, Fish & Parks committee — the committee that had already voted down the other baiting bill, House Bill 1095, on February 20. By late March, by all appearances, the House committee was not going to let SB 369 go any further, either.

Sen. Williams, however, did not let the issue end there. On March 27, when the Senate took up the crossbow bill (HB 1174), Sen. Williams introduced an amendment to the bill that included the wording of his Senate baiting bill. The Senate passed both the amendment and the new version of HB 1174, a bill that would now legalize both crossbows and Southern Zone deer baiting if passed into law. There was only one difference — Sen. Rene Kemp (D-Hinesville) had also introduced an amendment to HB 1174 that would “sunset” the baiting amendment on July 1, 2005, unless renewed by the General Assembly. If HB 1174 ultimately became law with the attached baiting amendment, legalized baiting of deer would be temporary and would become illegal again in 2005 unless the legislature passed the law again. In one way, this “sunset” clause threatened to worsen the firestorm of controversy over baiting by legalizing hunting over bait and then possibly banning it again — in the words of one hunter, it would have been like passing out free and legal crack cocaine, then cutting off the supply once everyone was addicted.

By amending HB 1174 in the Senate, which had already passed the House Game, Fish & Parks committee and the full House when it was only a crossbow bill, Sen. Williams was able to go around the House Game, Fish & Parks committee and take the baiting initiative directly to the full House. When one side of the legislature amends a bill that has already passed the other side, the bill must go back to the first side, which must agree or disagree with the changes to the bill. Thus, HB 1174 went back to the House floor to get approval of its newly-attached baiting language.

Meanwhile, two other major House bills seemed to be in a log-jam in the Senate: the Wildlife Violator Compact (HB 1056), and HB 1158, the 12-deer limit, deer antler rule and longer-deer-season bill. These bills needed only a vote on the Senate floor to go to the Governor, but days passed with no action. It appeared as if the Senate was waiting to see what the House would do with the baiting issue before dealing with the House’s hunting legislation.

After more delays, the baiting issue finally came to a floor debate and vote on Tuesday, April 9, when Rep. Greg Morris (D-Vidalia), the author of the original crossbow bill, made a motion that the House agree with the Senate baiting amendment to his crossbow bill. More than an hour of debate followed, with several Representatives taking to the well to speak to their colleagues about baiting. Supporters cited key arguments that had been presented throughout the session — baiting would help raise the deer harvest, reduce the population and thus reduce deer-car collisions; baiting would provide equality for deer hunters not wealthy enough to own land or plant a food plot; and, said supporters, legalized baiting would bring more tourism dollars to local economies by attracting more non-resident Florida hunters to south Georgia.

Opponents of the bill, including Rep. Bob Lane (D-Statesboro), chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee, focused on fair chase in their speeches, saying that baiting is detrimental to the image of sportsmen and that anyone with any hunting instincts could kill deer in Georgia without having to bait, given the broad opportunities and abundant deer.

HB 1174 needed a minimum of 91 “yes” votes to pass the House as amended. It received 63 “yes” votes and 82 “no” votes, while 21 representatives did not vote, and 12 were absent on that day.

This was not the end of the matter. The results of the vote were reported back to the Senate, which had the option of removing their amendments and passing the original crossbow bill. Instead, the Senate formally “insisted” on its version, forcing the formation of a conference committee to settle the matter. By this time, there was only one legislative day remaining, and it appeared that lack of time would cause the failure of all the bills involved.

On Friday, April 12, the last day, an alternate version of HB 1174, the conference committee report, appeared on the House floor. It contained almost everything left unpassed — the original crossbow language, the language of the Wildlife Violator Compact (HB 1056), and the language enacting a 12-deer limit, statewide antler regulation and extended deer season. It also contained a clause making it legal to hunt deer within the vicinity of bait if the hunter is at least 200 yards away from and not within sight of the bait — the same as current rules but 100 yards closer.

Representatives who had spoken in favor of baiting two days before called this new version a good compromise. The House quickly passed the conference committee version 151 to 8 with no further discussion, and within minutes it was on the Senate floor, where it also passed quickly. In one swoop, initiatives that had struggled along for weeks were passed, all except deer baiting. The legislature shortened the distance that hunters must withdraw from feed sites, aiding hunters who have year-round supplemental feed sites on their land but still wish to hunt legally and continue feeding. The plan to legalize the actual shooting of deer at feed sites, however, failed.

Frequently Asked Questions

The array of changes to deer hunting that have now been passed by the legislature is generating confusion and questions among sportsmen already. Some hunters are under the impression that baiting is now legal. This is due to several factors, mainly confusing headlines in local newspapers and misinformation passed by word-of-mouth among hunters.

Hunting deer over bait is illegal in Georgia for the 2002-03 season.

As for the deer bag limit, following approval by the Governor and the DNR Board, hunters will be able to take up to 10 antlerless deer in a season, and up to two bucks, a total of 12 deer. As for the bucks, one of them can be any antlered buck the hunter would like to shoot, but at least one of them must have four points, an inch or longer, on either antler beam. This is true statewide, with these exceptions:

1) Hunters in counties that already have an antler restriction must still abide by the countywide regulation.

2) Hunters participating in quota or check-in hunts on state WMAs or federal land where bonus deer tags are issued will not have to comply with the new antler regulation. The rule will apply on all other WMAs or federal land where deer that are killed count against a hunter’s season limit.

Quail Bill Passes With Changes

House Bill 1058, the pen-raised quail bill, passed the Senate on March 27, clearing the final hurdle before arriving on the Governor’s desk. However, a floor substitute was introduced in the House that changed the rules as GON originally reported them.

The change in the law now allows all licensed hunters to release and shoot any number of pen-raised quail at any time of year “for purposes of dog training.” Originally the proposal called for a limit on the number of quail that could be released, as well as a restricted season. Those limitations are now completely removed.

Because the language of the bill incorporated “dog training” specifically, anyone buying, releasing and shooting pen-raised quail who doesn’t have a bird dog with them could be cited with a violation. Also, they must have proof of purchase (a receipt) for pen-raised quail with them.

In all but one Southern Zone county, and in the suburban counties surrounding Atlanta, where either-sex days now begin on opening day of gun season, there are more either-sex days for the 2002-03 deer season. The rest of the state will have almost the same schedule as last year, with these exceptions:

Fannin, Towns and Union counties will have one doe day, November 9, the first either-sex day held in these counties in the modern deer season.

In the Southern Zone, Echols County will also get its first modern doe days, going from zero last year to nine days this year (December 14-22).

The northwest Georgia counties of Dade, Walker, Catoosa and Chat-tooga, along with Lumpkin, White and Habersham, will go from six doe days last year to eight this year.

If you hunt in southern Forsyth County, south of Hwy 20, you have all of modern-firearms season to shoot a doe, but remember that this region of the county is open only to shotguns loaded with buckshot and muzzleloaders during gun season. Modern rifles and shotgun slugs are prohibited.

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