cottontail rabbit

The Fisheries and Wildlife Board will move forward with public hearings on on changes to regulations surrounding small game like cottontail rabbits.

Recently, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted to proceed to public hearing with proposed changes to regulations around pheasant hunting and small game. I tried to paraphrase them, but I think I would just confuse us all. Therefore, I am passing on the proposed changes verbatim [Portions have been abbreviated for print, visit BerkshireEagle.com/sports to read proposals in their entirety]:

“Extend opportunity to harvest pheasants/quail through December

A small portion of stocked pheasant/quail survive the regular season from mid-October through November. Following the shotgun deer season, extending the pheasant and quail season through the end of December provides an additional opportunity for enthusiastic and skilled game bird hunters to harvest remaining stocked pheasants/quail. Additionally, rabbit/hare/squirrel hunters would gain hunting opportunities from this season extension as well. Given the late-season nature of this proposed hunting opportunity, we anticipate relatively low participation rates and therefore minimal, if any, concerns or conflicts with other hunters, recreationalists, and/or landowners.

Expand allowable hunting implements on stocked WMAs, and standardize hunting implements (shotgun and archery only) for pheasant/quail

Current regulations unnecessarily restrict hunting implements on stocked Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) to shotgun and archery for hunters pursuing species other than pheasant and quail. Many stocked WMAs are large or occur as multiple, distinct parcels such that restricting implements unnecessarily hinders hunting for other game. This change is also critical since the proposed expansion of the pheasant/quail season occurs during the muzzleloader deer season. Expanding hunting implements would most benefit black bear hunters during the November season and hunters of other furbearers.

In addition, regulations would be amended to specify that pheasant/quail hunters may only use shotgun and archery equipment on both stocked WMAs and other stocked properties. Currently, shotguns and archery equipment are specified for pheasant/quail hunters on stocked WMAs, while on non-WMA stocked properties there are no existing implement restrictions.

Expand hunting hours for archery deer/waterfowl, etc., hunters on stocked WMAs, and standardize hunting hours for all pheasant/quail hunters

On pheasant-stocked WMAs, current regulations unnecessarily restrict hunters during archery deer, bear, fall turkey, waterfowl, etc., seasons from being able to hunt during some of the best time periods for hunting those species. Stocked WMAs can readily accommodate hunters who are not targeting pheasant and quail from 1⁄2 hour before sunrise to 1⁄2 hour after sunset, thereby standardizing hunting hours both on and off WMAs and simplifying regulations.

Additionally, pheasant/quail hunting hours would run from sunrise to sunset, regardless of whether hunting is occurring on a stocked WMA or any other property. Currently, hunting hours are not the same on stocked WMAs (sunrise to sunset) compared to other pheasant-stocked properties (1⁄2 hour before sunrise to 1⁄2 hour after sunset).

Simplification/expansion of gray squirrel, cottontail, and snowshoe hare seasons

Regulations associated with the hunting of gray squirrel, cottontail, and snowshoe hare are unnecessarily complicated. The proposed simplified framework would include a statewide season for cottontail/hare starting mid-October (the Saturday after Columbus Day) and end the last day of February. The gray squirrel season would run from early September to February 28. Harvest of these small game species is minimal relative to population size, and any expansion in season would not be detrimental to long-term population health. These changes greatly simplify the regulations and provide additional opportunities in the early and late season for both new and experienced hunters.

Remove the black-tailed jack rabbit season

Black-tailed jack rabbits have been extirpated from Nantucket for decades. There is no reason to have an open season for an extirpated, non-native species.”

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So, there you have it, direct from MassWildlife. The Mass. Fish & Wildlife Board agreed to pursue the recommendations and will shortly be setting up a public meeting date. The Board is asking some preliminary input from the various county sportsmen’s leagues and clubs. At its February 2022 monthly meeting, the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen unanimously approved the proposals, as did the Cheshire Rod & Gun Club.

Desired hunting legislative proposals are gaining traction

Reliable sources report that the following legislative proposals will be reported out favorably from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Most of them have been covered in recent articles in this column:

Senator Gobi’s Bill S. 546 — An act to Reimburse the Inland Fish and Game Fund. This will reimburse MassWildlife for the free licenses made available to those aged 70-and-older and could mean upwards of $2 million annually.

H. 991 — An act relative to the use of crossbows in hunting. Petitioned by Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli and Representative Viera’s bill H. 1024.

S.552 — Senator Gobi’s bill on setbacks reducing from 500 to 250 feet for archery.

Finally, all the Sunday Hunting Bills were put in a study.

Hunters are encouraged to contact their representatives and politely ask them to support these bills. Thanks to Rep. Smitty for his petition on the crossbow bill.

Hunting still very popular here in the Berkshires

To hear some people, one would conclude that hardly anyone hunts around here anymore. The percentage/number of hunters in relation to the total state/county population are quite low. One reason, they claim, is that the rewards for the efforts are hardly worth it. Well, have you checked the price of meat lately, or what a roast duck meal will cost you in a restaurant?

Rarely are the other rewards that the hunter reaps ever mentioned. Things like fresh air, physical exercise, the comradery of friends and family, and just being out there with mother nature and all of the beauty she has to offer.

Lest you be swayed by any misleading comments, please consider these statistics which were provided by MassWildlife to F&W Board Member Bob Durand. Bob kindly passed them onto us:

According to MassWildlife’s Year 2020 license sales (last year provided), there were 5,510 hunting and sporting licenses sold in the Berkshires (A sporting license allows hunting and fishing). My friends, that’s a lot of local hunters.

Ice Fishing Derbies

If you like to fish in New York, the Canaan Conservation Club will be holding its 23rd Annual Hard Water Fishing Derby on Queechy Lake on Feb. 19. It will run from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can register and pay online or by visiting canaanconservationclub.weebly.com.

The entrance fee is $15 for adults and $5 for youths aged 15-and-under. There will be prizes, raffles and more. Remember, next weekend is free fishing weekend in the state of New York with no license required.

Also, don’t forget, the Cheshire Rod & Gun Club and the Adams Outdoor for Youth organizations have scheduled an ice fishing derby on Sunday, Feb. 20 on the 1st and 2nd Hoosac Lakes in Cheshire. It will run from sunrise until 4 p.m. with weigh-in at the Farnams Causeway. The ticket holder with the heaviest fish wins an Eskimo Quickfish 3 Ice Shelter and an 8-inch K-Drill Auger.

Prizes and refreshments will be at 5 p.m. at the Cheshire R&G Club House. Kids 14-and-under free with adult ticket holder ($10 donation).

Go Fish MA!

MassWildlife encourages you to use the Go Fish MA! map to target fish on ice. The detailed depth information from the map can help you decide where to go and where to set up on a pond. You can even view waterbody depth in real time on your phone. I tested it on a couple of locations where I ice fish on Stockbridge Bowl and it is spot on.

Take a boating safety course

A boating safety course is recommended for anyone who wishes to operate a boat. Young boaters aged 12-15 are required to complete a state-approved boating safety course to operate a motorboat without adult supervision. Boat Massachusetts is a free course, 10-12 hours in length, offered by the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Family participation is encouraged and has proven to be very rewarding.

There is such a course coming up at the Cheshire Rod & Gun Club on the following evenings: Feb. 28, March 3, 7 and 9. All classes must be attended. The course is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

For more information, click onto Mass.gov/services-details/boating-safety.

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.