weather

People and dogs traverse the ice to fish and play on Windsor Lake in North Adams on Jan. 16, 2022. Local ice fishing derbies are slated for Feb. 12 and Feb. 13.

One of the items that was included in Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent recommendation were to include Sunday archery hunting.

Here is the exact verbiage: Sunday Bow Hunting of Deer Section 57 of Chapter 131 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2020 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence: This section shall not prohibit the Director, with the approval of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, from authorizing the hunting of deer by bow and arrow on any Sunday, and shall not render unlawful the possession or carrying of a bow and arrow for the purpose of hunting deer, as authorized by the Director with the approval of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board.

In summary, this section would allow for bow hunting for deer on Sundays.

Another item included in the governor’s recommendations was to change the setback requirements (from occupied dwellings) from 500 feet to 250.

Exact verbiage: Section 61 Decreased Hunting Setbacks Section 58 of said Chapter 131, as so appearing, is hereby amended by adding the following words: Provided that a person may hunt with a bow and arrow not less than 250 feet from any dwelling in use.

In summary, this section would reduce bow hunting setbacks from a dwelling from 500 feet to 250 feet to align with the setbacks in neighboring states.

Now the question is, will the Legislature approve them?

I am retired now and can hunt any day of the week except Sunday. But there was a time when nothing angered me more than not being able to hunt on Sundays. For many, December is a very busy time with projects to be wrapped up before year-end, and working 6 days a week is a requirement. If a hunter wants to hunt on his only day off (Sunday), he has to buy an expensive non-resident license and drive to a neighboring state like New York, Vermont or Connecticut. That is not right. Sunday hunting is the only remnant of the archaic and long-discontinued Sunday Blue Laws.

Friends would frequently tell me that Sunday is the only day that they can go hiking in the woods without fear of being shot. My response has always been, well there are a lot of hunters where that is the only day that they can hunt. It always griped me that I could not go hunting or allow others to hunt on my own land on Sunday. Hikers and bird watchers shouldn’t be there without permission, so what’s the problem?

In my opinion, the fear of being shot or killed in the woods is unfounded. Many don’t know or fail to accept the fact that hunting is one of the safest recreational activities in America. The last survey that I saw based upon figures originated from the Centers for Disease Control is very telling.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms industry, has compiled data that shows hunting ranks third in safety when compared to 28 other recreational pursuits, ranging from baseball to wrestling.

Hunting with firearms has an injury rate of 0.05 percent, which equates to about 1 injury per 2,000 participants, a safety level bettered only by camping (.01 percent) and billiards (.02 percent).

Comprehensive hunter education classes that emphasize the basic rules of firearm safety and a culture of hunters helping fellow hunters practice safe firearms handling in the field are probably responsible for this good record.

To quote the NSSF, “To put hunting’s safety standing into perspective, compared to hunting, a person is . . . 11 times more likely to be injured playing volleyball, 19 times more likely to be injured snowboarding, 25 times more likely to be injured cheerleading or bicycle riding, 34 times more likely to be injured playing soccer or skateboarding, 105 more times likely to be injured playing tackle football. Hunting is even safer than golf.

The number of hunters nationwide who went afield in a recent year was estimated at 16.3 million. Of that total, approximately 8,122 sustained injuries, or 50 per 100,000 participants. The vast majority of hunting accidents, more than 6,600, were tree stand-related.

I have the same issue with DFW Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). Those properties were acquired using funds derived from hunting and fishing license sales and excise taxes on firearms and other sporting equipment. Unfortunately, everyone else can use those lands on Sundays except the hunters. That also is not right! Hikers have thousands of acres of land to hike on DCR lands which do prohibit Sunday hunting.

Another problem I have is the issue of setbacks (mandatory distances from an occupied dwelling one can hunt). Current Massachusetts law prohibits a person from possessing a loaded firearm or hunting by any means on another person’s land within 500 feet of a dwelling in use, unless allowed. That includes WMA’s.

These mandatory distances also apply to bowhunters. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t even think William Tell could launch an arrow anywhere near 300 feet. Bowhunters traditionally use tree stands and fire their arrows downward at their prey. No way an arrow under those conditions could traverse much over a couple hundred feet, not even with a ricochet. It would seem to me that a 250 feet setback should be sufficient.

The reduction of such a setback would enable hunters to hunt more land which hitherto could not be hunted. That would be good news to the archers in the heavily populated eastern part of the state who cannot hunt certain towns due to the high housing density. Towns, incidentally, need to severely reduce their deer populations to prevent destruction of their young trees and shrubbery and possibly reduce the number of deer ticks.

Let’s hope the Legislature reacts positively to the Governor’s recommendations.

Ice Fishing Derbies

On Feb. 12 the Great Barrington Fish & Game Club will be sponsoring an ice fishing derby on Mercer’s Pond. It starts at 7 a.m. and runs until 1 p.m. The entrance fee is $15 for adults and children 12 and under $5. The grand door prize for adults will be an ice auger, for the children it will be a bicycle. Other prizes include the heaviest fish overall. Tickets must be purchased at the clubhouse prior to the derby. No exceptions. There will be a spaghetti and meatball dinner following the derby.

On Feb. 13, the Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department’s 5th Annual Ice Fishing Derby will take place on the North Basin only of Cheshire Lake. Registration will take place from 6:00 a.m. to12:00 p.m., with derby hours from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. All fish must be weighed in by 4:00 p.m. and prizes will be awarded at 4:30 p.m. at the Bass Water Grill.

The registration fee is $15 for adults and youths 12 and under free with the purchase of an adult ticket. The entry fee also enters you into thousands of dollars worth of raffle prizes to be drawn throughout the day. Prizes will be awarded for the three largest fish of any species for both adult and youth age groups. The grand prize, which was donated by Bedard Bros Auto Sales, is a Milwaukee 2804-22 Drill with 2 batteries, charger, and hard case and Eskimo 8” Pistol Bit Auger.

The second-place prize, donated by Harry’s Auto Sales, is a Jet Sled filled with a full set of 5 Heritage Tip-Ups, bait bucket, bait net, chipper/skimmer. The third prize, donated by Eskimo, is an Eskimo QuickFish 2 Ice Fishing Shanty.

But wait! There’s more! The largest bass of the day wins a full set of 5 Jack Trap tip-ups donated by Colin Haas and Laina Main. Also, a full set of prizes for the youth group donated by JCB Bait. Trophies were donated by NEBASSIN NY/MA as part of their FHF Tournament Series.

Gosh, it’s so nice to be able to write about ice fishing derbies again. With the combination of iffy ice conditions and the COVID-19 scare in prior years, they just weren’t being held.

The last time I checked (Stockbridge Bowl last Wednesday) there was at least 14 inches of hard ice. If you are able, round up the kids and get out there and enjoy the day. Don’t forget to bring gramps and grandma, too.

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@gmail.com. Phone: (413) 637-1818.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@gmail.com or 413-637-1818.

Gene Chague is a longtime sportsman and editor of The Eagle's Berkshire Woods and Waters outdoors column.