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Proposed Game Code Changes for 2009 - 2012 Hunting Seasons

Proposed Changes to Hunting in New Jersey

By Carole Kandoth
Principal Biologist
September 15, 2008
Updated March 13, 2009
Updated April 6, 2009
Updated April 23, 2009

The following article first appeared in the August 2008 Hunting Issue of the Fish and Wildlife DIGEST, page 80.

Changes to hunting regulations are established by the Fish and Game Council through revisions to the Game Code. The Council voted to accept the following Game Code amendments on April 8, 2008 (pdf, 24kb), which, if approved, are scheduled to be effective in 2009. They were published in the April 6, 2009 NJ Register and the 60-day public comment period began. A public hearing was held on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Trenton Museum.

See the Notice of Rule Proposal for details and a link to the proposed Game Code amendments.

Opening day of rabbit season will move forward from the second week in November to the last Saturday in September.

The opening day of small game traditionally starts on the Saturday closest to November 10 to allow farmers time to harvest crops. This proposal maintains that tradition by keeping the November opening day timing for pheasants, chukar and quail. An earlier rabbit/hare season should not interfere with farming activities since rabbit hunting involves hedgerows, old fields and most often uses a dog to flush and chase game back to the stationary hunter. An earlier open also provides ample opportunity for rabbit/hare hunters to enjoy their sport when rabbit populations are most abundant plus will allow hunting on WMAs without encountering bird hunters and trappers. Private landowners can choose not to allow the earlier open on their property.

Add fisher to the Game Code in the section covering raccoon, fox, opossum, weasel and coyote trapping, with a closed season.

New Jersey is at the southern portion of the fisher's natural range; restoration projects are ongoing in New York and Pennsylvania. It is believed that fisher may be migrating southwest into New Jersey from New York's Catskill Mountains. There have been two confirmed sightings (Frelinghuysen Twp., Warren County 2004; Stokes State Forest, Sussex County 2006), and seven unconfirmed sightings from June through December 2007. Game species designation will clarify the fisher's status as a protected furbearer with a closed season.

Increase the coyote season length for the special permit night season.

The current season runs from the second week of January to the third week in February. The proposal opens the season from January 1 through March 15 plus removes the bag limit. Coyotes are well established through all 21 counties. Damage complaints have increased and attacks on humans have occurred. An increased number of permit applications prove an increased hunter interest.

Create two hunting zones divided by Rt. 70 with seasonally-adjusted opening days.

This confers some protection to the southern population where suitable habitat is in short supply.

There are three proposed changes for turkey.

1. Open spring turkey season one week later, decreasing the season length by one week.
Spring seasons should coincide with the onset of egg incubation by hens. A cooperative research project among eastern states shows that the optimal time for a season opener is around April 25 for northern New Jersey and April 20 for the south. Under this proposal, opening days would fall between April 19 and 26. A later opener will disturb clutching hens less, plus should reduce illegal hen harvest. A later date will also better coincide with the second peak in gobbling activity, as more hens will be on the nest and fewer will be with toms. This proposal will help offset the turkey population decline of the past several years in the central portion of the state.

2. Redefine the boundaries of Turkey Hunting Areas (THAs) 15, 20 and 21.
Turkey harvest densities have increased in the southern portion of THA 15 over the past 10 years. The southern part of THA 15 will be moved into THAs 20 and 21. This adjustment will open up the shifted areas to fall turkey hunting. The transfer of the appropriate number of permits from THA 15 to THAs 20 and 21 has been calculated based upon land area and hunter densities.

3. Remove THAs 6, 7 and 10 from the fall hunting season.
The criteria to open a THA for fall hunting is an annual harvest of greater than or equal to one gobbler per square mile of turkey habitat for three consecutive years. If the gobbler harvest in a THA open to fall hunting drops to below 0.75 gobblers/mile sq. for three years in a row, that THA will be removed from the fall hunting season. THAs 6, 7 and 10 meet the criteria for removal.

There are seven proposed changes for deer.

1. Expand the use of crossbows to all hunters during the three existing archery seasons. (For more on this proposal, see the feature article, Crossbows: Coming to a Treestand Near You?.)

2. Grant authority to the Fish and Game Council to shift the assignment of a deer management zone (DMZ) into a different deer regulation set, provided certain criteria are met. (See 2008-2009 Deer Regulation Sets (pdf, 23kb)
Amendments to the Game Code formerly followed an annual cycle; currently, a three year cycle is in effect to accommodate the regulatory process. With the authority to make changes within this three year cycle, the Council can affect a timely response to unforeseen or undesirable deer population changes to better achieve deer management goals, and to avert potentially damaging situations.

3. Add a new "Regulation Set 9" to the existing deer regulation sets. (See 2008-2009 Deer Regulation Sets (pdf, 23kb)
The regulations in the proposed Regulation Set 9 will be more liberal than the most liberal, existing Regulation Set 8

Harvest results from the 2007-08 deer seasons show an antlerless deer harvest reduction during this first year of regulation changes in the Set 8 DMZs. These changes included the removal of the Earn-A-Buck regulation from all seasons except the first three weeks of the Fall Bow Season, and moving the antlerless-only days of Permit Shotgun and Permit Muzzleloader seasons from the week of Thanksgiving to the week after Thanksgiving. The proposed Regulation Set 9 will allow the Council to respond to an undesired population growth, should current harvest trends continue.

Regulation Set 9 will have four additional days of antlerless-only hunting for both the Permit Shotgun and Permit Muzzleloader seasons during Thanksgiving week. Data from previous years shows a significant portion of the overall antlerless harvest occurred during these early November days.

4. Add a new "Regulation Set 0" to existing deer regulation sets. (See 2008-2009 Deer Regulation Sets (pdf, 23kb)
The regulations in the proposed Regulation Set 0 will be more restrictive than the most restrictive existing Regulation Set 1.

Certain DMZs in Regulation Sets 2 and 3, namely Zones 21, 23, 24, 34, 43, 45 and 46, have experienced harvest declines; all are below their population goal. Harvest data from the past six years shows the majority of the antlerless harvest being taken during the Permit Muzzleloader Season. Adoption of a more restrictive regulation set will allow the Council to increase deer populations in DMZs having less productive habitat.

Regulation Set 0 will reduce the Permit Muzzleloader Season by four days and reduce the antlerless bag limit to one per season.

5. Implement a Deer Management Assistance Program.
Fish and Wildlife has proposed a plan for landowners to better cope with undesirable deer densities on their properties while utilizing the current hunting season regulations and hunters to remove additional antlerless deer. The Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) would be available for the 2009-10 deer seasons. See the Deer Management Assistance Program page for details.

6. Change regulation sets for DMZs 18, 22 and 26. (See 2008-2009 Deer Regulation Sets (pdf, 23kb)
These zones have been experiencing declines in harvest and/or are below the population goal. Zones 22 and 26 will be moved from Set 4 to Set 3; Zone 18 will be moved from Set 3 to Set 2. Moving these zones down one regulation set into more a set with more restrictive seasons will allow moderate population increases.

7. Change a portion of the boundaries between Zones 23 and 25.
A portion of the boundary between Ancora and Hammonton running along Blue Anchor Brook and Albertson Brook will be changed to Routes 30 and 206. The brooks comprising part of this border are run seasonally. Changing the boundary to roadways will provide a more definitive border between zones.

Until formal adoption of the proposed Game Code amendments all the above changes are tentative. Interested individuals welcome to submit written comments and/or speak at the public hearing regarding any or all of these proposals. Watch the Division of Fish and Wildlife homepage for an announcement about publication of the proposed amendments in the NJ Register. Subscribers to the Hunting E-mail List will be notified automatically - see the E-mail Lists page for details and to subscribe.


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Last Updated: April 23, 2009