G&F proposes to nix December juniors muzzleloader deer hunt

If the recommendations of the Arizona Game & Fish Department (Region III) are followed by the commission at the upcoming April meeting, there will be no more December juniors-only muzzleloader deer hunt in Mohave County.

According to Region III Supervisor Bob Posey, his staff is recommending that the juniors hunt in Unit 16A be moved from the December timeframe to a time in November.

"The hunt will be moved from Unit 16A to the 15s," Posey said. "It will still be a muzzleloader hunt, but it will be in a timeframe that follows our guidelines."

Posey also said the permit numbers will most likely stay the same.

While this all seems nice and tidy, I've got some real issues with this recommendation, and I hope when you read this story that you will, too.

First of all, the new hunt timeframe will cause an overlap with the juniors deer and the late general elk hunts.

Here is some other history about this December juniors hunt. The December juniors muzzleloader deer hunt has been offered by the G&F for more than 15 years.

It was offered before in Units 15A, B, C and D, but was moved to the Hualapais when the deer numbers dropped significantly in these units.

And it seems that about every three to four years, Region III makes a concerted effort to drop this hunt, much to the dismay of not only myself, but to many other sportsmen as well.

This latest controversy started earlier this month when the department held a public meeting at the Region III office that was attended by just eight sportsmen. Erin Riddering, the Region III game specialist who facilitated the meeting, broke the news that the juniors hunt was being moved not only into different units but also to a different timeframe.

"This hunt is not within our guidelines," was one of the reasons cited by Riddering for the proposed change.

Funny thing is that this hunt hasn't been part of their guidelines for many, many years.

And understand that the proposal to drop the hunt isn't due to any biological issues. It's not.

Posey freely admitted there are no biological reasons why the hunt couldn't stay in December.

It is, as Posey says, purely "A social issue and about staying within our guidelines."

In the past when the department tried to eliminate this hunt, lots of letters and phone calls came into not only Region III, but some of us even took our case directly to the commission.

On more than one occasion after hearing our pleas, the hunt was reinstated by the commissioners.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard the commissioners say at these meetings how much that public input meant to them, and how they listen to their constituents.

"If there isn't a biological issue with what the public wants us to do, then we try and do what our sportsmen want," was the comment of one former commissioner who had Region III put the juniors hunt back in the hunt package a few years ago.

Now, that may all change.

Without a concerted effort by sportsmen to once again let the department and commission know that we want this hunt, the December juniors only muzzleloader hunt will go away once and for all.

In the beginning, this hunt was created for local sportsmen who liked the idea that their kids would be able to hunt during Christmas break.

Local school teachers and administrators liked it too, as kids didn't miss any school while going on these hunts. Sadly, hunting isn't considered by many to be a legitimate reason for a kid to miss school today.

Then there were those that were in different athletic programs that the December hunt also benefitted. The kids didn't have to miss practices. Missing practice means the difference of getting to play or not playing, according to local school teacher and coach, Scott Snay, who was one of those at the meeting who spoke out against the proposed change.

Kids in Mohave County used to get the vast majority of these tags. Now our kids get roughly a third of the 30 tags issued.

Why? Well the "secret" is out about this hunt with sportsmen from all over the state and beyond.

This hunt works not only for local kids but for a lot of kids statewide who otherwise wouldn't get to go hunting for a variety of reasons. The hunt is always oversubscribed.

Here is the bottom line.

If you can see the benefits that this hunt offers for the kids, then you need to take the time to send in your comments to eriddering@azgfd.gov and/or gamebranch@azgfd.gov and let them know how you feel.

Posey told me that every comment that comes in will ultimately be read by our commissioners.

Then we can only hope that they, like their predecessors, will see the value in keeping this hunt, and have the department offer the hunt this year and beyond.

Sometimes the "one size fits all" ideology isn't the best way to go.

The kids are the future of this sport, and we and the G&F need to do everything we can to keep as many of the kids involved as possible.

Keeping that December muzzleloader hunt intact, no matter what unit it is in, will do just that.