TRYING TO BE A duck hunter can be difficult if you live in or near the Northern Neck and don’t own land along the water. State lawmakers have made it intentionally difficult for anyone not owning riparian rights in this area to hunt—short of paying expensive leases in the rare event any waterfront is available or other pay-to-hunt options.

It takes 2,700 words to explain Virginia’s excessively complicated waterfowl regulations.

Now, identical bills (SB 1725 and HB 2658) have been proposed in the General Assembly by Senator Richard Stuart and Delegate Margaret Ransone that seem to further hamstring non-riparian landowner hunters.

The bills state that, “no stake or stationary waterfowl blind that is erected in the public waters be located less than 150 yards from a riparian owner’s shoreline at the mean low water mark, unless the riparian owner gives written permission to locate the stake or blind closer to shore.”

I attempted to contact both legislators’ offices last week to ask what specifically precipitated this need to further restrict duck hunters, but received no reply before deadline.

Virginia law prohibits any blind in King George, Caroline, Essex, Richmond and Westmoreland Counties, and Richmond from being erected or floated within 500 yards of another licensed blind without permission of that blind owner.

The historical truth is that landowners with marshes, guts and creeks running into their property often liked to situate honey-hole blinds in these more secluded, skinny water areas. But they had a problem, keeping non-landowners from intercepting “their” ducks on the main river.

The solution was to license trees and 2x4s stuck in the mud on their property along the main river, essentially “posting” a public waterway. These were called ghost blinds.

More than a decade ago, many waterfowlers fought hard to try to get the right to hunt public water from floating blinds in these same counties. Window-dressing legislation prettied up the situation. Blinds now had to be erected with “an intent to hunt” from them. Of course, this is unenforceable. Any 2x4 nailed to a tree with a 2-foot piece of burlap is still a blind. A landowner can say, “I absolutely intend to hunt there (I never will, but I ‘intend’ to).”

The next solution was to allow hunters to buy floating blind stakes. You still couldn’t stake a spot near these phony ghost blinds, but it was the only solution that would pass a vote and it, too, faced intense opposition from the landed gentry and their political minions.

Back to the current proposal: the law gives riparian landowners first rights to license blinds in the public water in front of their property. If they don’t, a non-riparian landowner may license and erect a blind for that year. If the riparian landowner decides the next year that they want to hunt ducks, they get back first rights to a blind license and can, basically, evict the non-riparian blind holder and erect a blind they intend to hunt from.

I guess if you’re a landowner and were negligent in not licensing a blind in the public water in front of your property, and you don’t like hearing people shooting birds at daybreak, then you think this is a good idea.

I see a couple sides to the proposed legislation. Ideally, any non-riparian hunter erecting a blind tries to work courteously with the riparian landowner to mitigate conflicts. One possibility would be a landowner agreeing to relinquish riparian rights and let someone else bear the expense of building and maintaining a blind as long as they move the action 150 yards offshore. But, you need wide water for that type of deal. In narrower tributaries, this could be problematic. Safe hunting is often possible in these narrower waters, but setting the blind location would be next to impossible under the proposal. Maybe “impossible” is the goal? Without a response from the proponents, we can only speculate.

Other Bills

A much-anticipated elk hunting license would be established under James W. Morefield’s HB 2687. It authorizes the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to establish guidelines related to selection of applicants for eligibility to purchase a special elk license and permits the transfer of special elk licenses to individuals or wildlife conservation organizations whose mission is to ensure the conservation of Virginia’s wildlife resources.

I would note that these “transfer” programs are often controversial in many states since the very limited licenses are typically auctioned at prices available only to very wealthy individuals. The bill sets a nonrefundable application fee of $15 for residents and $20 for nonresidents and a special elk license fee at no more than $40 for residents and $400 for nonresidents.

Hyland F. “Buddy” Fowler Jr. has HB 1621, which allows Virginia residents to purchase a trip hunting license in lieu of the standard local or statewide hunting license. Current law allows only nonresidents to purchase a trip hunting license.

HB 1696 by C. Matthew Fariss authorizes shooting or attempting to take a nuisance species from an automobile or other vehicle on private property owned by the operator of or a passenger in the automobile or other vehicle.

Penalties for wanton waste of game animals and migratory birds would increase from a Class 3 to Class 2 misdemeanor under HB 1613, proposed by James E. Edmunds II.

Under HB 2252 by Christopher T. Head, a landowner whose property, including multiple contiguous parcels, spans two or more localities would be allowed to choose the locality whose hunting ordinances will be followed by anyone hunting on the property. The bill requires all such hunters to comply with all of the applicable hunting ordinances of the chosen locality and to comply with state hunting laws and regulations.

A host of firearms-related laws, including universal background checks, limits on handgun purchases, requirements to keep guns locked up in homes, and restricting some concealed carry abilities were struck down by votes in the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Sub-Committee.

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