Lots of Changes this Year to Big Game Hunt Seasons

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Hunters will want to get copies of this year's hunt regulations when they are available online and via hunting license sales dealers: There are lots of changes this year to the big game hunt seasons, in large part to assist efforts to retain and recruit hunters.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission on April 22 set the commission orders for deer, elk, pronghorn, turkey, javelina, bighorn sheep, buffalo, bear, and mountain lion, along with the small game hunting seasons, predator/furbearer seasons, and trapping seasons.

The newly adopted hunt regulations will be available online at the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Web site at azgfd.gov by the first week of May. The printed regulations should be available at license dealers throughout the state by mid-May. The fall hunt application deadline is 7 p.m. (MST) June 13. Hunters can again apply online for the big game hunts this year at azgfd.gov.

Here is a quick summary of changes this year:

* The online application process is again available this year.

* There are fall javelina big game hunt permit tags available this year.

* Bonus points and loyalty points now also apply to javelina, turkey and bear.

* A 10-percent non-resident cap now applies to bighorn sheep, buffalo, all antlered deer, bull elk, javelina, antelope and turkey. There is no longer a 15-percent bighorn sheep set-aside of hunt permit-tags for non-residents.

* The $5 application fee per applicant will no longer be refunded on rejected applications.

* Applicants must be 10 years old by deadline day (June 13) to apply for bonus points. However, if applying for a hunt, applicants must be 10 years old by the beginning date of any hunt they select.

* Hunters are required to physically check-in for bear and mountain lion kills.

* Archery deer hunters are still required to report their harvest; compliance for this requirement last year was low.

* The 20-percent bonus point pass, meaning that 20-percent of tags in each hunt will be set aside for applicants with the highest number of bonus points, now applies to bighorn sheep, buffalo, antelope, bear, deer, elk, javelina and turkey.

* Metro unit numbers and boundaries have changed. Units 4A and 5A also changed.

Game Branch Chief Leonard Ordway said the department conducted an exhaustive effort to come up with strategies and efforts to increase hunter retention and recruitment, including maximizing hunting opportunities where feasible. Those recommendations resulted in a lot of small structure modifications this year, and even some significant changes, such as establishing some limited fall hunting for javelina.

Other proposed changes, such as having an earlier draw for elk and pronghorn antelope, will be implemented next year (some require rule changes before being implemented).

Saturday's commission meeting wasn't the only time public input has been gathered during the hunt-regulation process. During January and February, the Arizona Game and Fish Department conducted 11 public meetings throughout the state that were attended by approximately 600 people. The department also received approximately 350 written comments, mostly via e-mail.

"Because of all the proposed changes this year, we received what may be a record amount of public comment, which shows we have a robust process in place," Ordway said.

One area of ongoing concern, Ordway said, is the lack of reporting this past year by archery deer hunters. He explained that as of last year, successful archery deer hunters were required to contact the Game and Fish Department by person or via phone within 10 days of harvesting a deer. Unfortunately, department analysis indicates that only 25 to 30 percent of the successful archers complied with the new requirement last year.

The archery report-in process was put in place to gather data on archery harvest rather than going to a full draw system for archery.

Ordway noted that both mountain lion and bear hunters have mandatory check-ins within 48 hours of harvesting an animal. "The mountain lion check-in requirement is new this year," he said.

A piece of good news, Ordway said, comes from the small game arena: the Gambel's and scaled quail harvest was almost 1.5 million birds this past season, which is the best quail harvest since the early 1980s.