Legislation that would increase hunting and fishing license fees in Georgia was expected this year, but a proposal to again change Georgia’s deer season dates comes as a surprise.
House Bill 186 would change the statewide closing date for firearms deer season to the third Monday in January, and it would also open up archery deer hunting statewide from the close of gun season until Jan. 31. Currently, Georgia’s gun season for deer closes on the second Sunday of January. This season it closed on Jan. 8.
If HB 186 passes, gun hunting for deer wouldn’t close until Jan. 21 during the 2018-2019 season. The third Monday in January is MLK Day, a holiday for school kids and many workers.
Allowing archery hunting with bows and crossbows statewide until Jan. 31 would mirror what the state currently allows only for counties in the metro Atlanta area, where suburban deer numbers have grown mostly unchecked because only archery weapons are legal for deer hunting there.
HB 186 would have to be passed by both the state House of Representatives and state Senate and then signed by the Governor before it would be law.
The proposed law that would increase hunting and fishing license fees and the cost of boat registration is House Bill 208. The effort to raise license fees was begun more than two years ago by DNR, but during last year’s legislative session two different license-fee bills failed to progress due to some political wrangling. HB 208 would significantly increase most license fees. The cost of an annual Georgia resident hunting license would increase 50 percent from $10 to $15. If you want to hunt deer or turkey, the annual resident big game license would increase 122 percent from $9 to $20. An annual non-resident big game license would increase from $195 to $225. A resident fishing license would increase from $17 to $25. A resident Sportsman’s License would see the smallest hike, an 18 percent increase from $55 to $65 per year. To see all of the proposed fee increases, take a look at the current language of HB 208.
A fee hike should bring an infusion of money for Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, which relies heavily on sportsmen for funding through license fees and special federal taxes on the equipment we purchase. However, it’s worth noting that license-fee revenues pass through the General Assembly before being allocated to DNR, so there’s always a need for sportsmen to keep an eye on their money.
DNR has been mostly silent about how new money from a fee increase would be spent. The Game Management and Fisheries sections of the Wildlife Resources Division did not want to discuss specifics of possible expenditures. There has been mention that the Law Enforcement Division would like to hire 40 new conservation rangers toward a goal of every Georgia county having its own game warden.
Click here to see WRD’s case for supporting a license-fee increase. Two key points made are that the costs of Georgia’s licenses are below average for the southeastern region, and there hasn’t been an increase in fees since 2001.
Also this legislative session, a gun-confiscation bill introduced by a coalition of Georgia Democrats last year is back. HB 10 will ban commonly owned semi-automatic guns and require confiscation of those guns from law-abiding owners. HB 10 will ban the possession, sale, transport and distribution or use of certain guns, which politicians defined as “assault weapons” based entirely on how the guns look and because of their semi-auto action.
Meanwhile, there was a familiar tone to the recent Wildlife Resources Division public meetings, where sportsmen had an opportunity to offer suggestions and air grievances about hunting regulations. As usual, the most popular topics at the regs meetings were baiting in the Northern Zone and the deer limit, which require law change by the Georgia state legislature. Legalizing baiting statewide and reducing the deer limit are not priorities for WRD, so you won’t see the agency push for legislation to change those laws. Georgia’s DNR handles hunting and fishing regulations, which are recommended by the department based primarily on input from wildlife and fisheries biologists. Examples of regulations that DNR might change are the number of either-sex days in a section of the state or the dates of WMA hunts. The state legislature is charged with law changes, which would be required for changes to baiting and deer limits.