April 18, 2014 - 10:06
Coon hunting to continue
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Coon hunters will be able to enjoy their sport in the Ocoee and Tellico Bear Reserves next year – but only for a month and only with two dogs per truck.

Coon hunters will be able to enjoy their sport in the Ocoee and Tellico Bear Reserves next year – but only for a month and only with two dogs per truck. This year, for the first time in several years, hunters had a two-month season and there was no limit on dogs. The Acting Supervisor of the Cherokee National Forest, however, asked TWRA to drop the season completely, citing several concerns.

Cecil (Red) Harden, chairman of the Cherokee Hounsdmen, attended the TWRA meeting. He said he was tickled that they were able to get January back but added the dogs don’t hurt anything in the bear reserve in January and February. He said he did a lot of coon hunting this year and covered a lot of territory and never saw any bear sign. The bears were in the den with the little ones and were not travelling even though it was a mild winter.

“It’s something every year,” Harden said, adding they said dogs were a problem but they were able to train dogs, but no guns, the pest few years. He said he asked a Forest official about the fact that coon hunting is allowed on four bear reserves in the northern part of the Cherokee, and she said the problem was dogs. Harden said dogs are allowed in the other bear reserves. “I don’t understand why they’re shutting us down when other bear reserves are open,” he said. He said local hunters didn’t even know the Forest Service wanted to drop the coon hunting until a week before the April TWRA meeting. “They just went to the meeting and demanded they shut it down,” he said, adding there was no meeting with the hunters.

Coon hunting, Harden said, “is a heritage thing. We’ve all done it, my Daddy did it. We were all raised up doing it.” He said it’s all about the sport of hunting. “Just like bikers like to ride bicycles, we like to hunt.”

The County Commission, at its May meeting, voted to voice opposition to the change. John Pippenger sent a letter to the Forest countering its concerns about conflicts. He said it was a slap in face to the residents who use the Wildlife Management Area, saying the land should be used for various uses, including small game hunting with dogs. He noted there was an incident about five years ago involving a bear during coon season that led to a hunting shutdown. He added the incident was dismissed in federal court with no conviction. When hunting was allowed this year with .22 caliber gun only, he said, there were no citations for improper ammo or poaching.

Regarding concern about the number of dogs, Pippenger said there were no regulations in effect and suggested limiting the number of dogs if that’s a concern.

The Forest Service also commented that some hunters had traveled for than two hours to coon hunt in the Ocoee Bear Reserve. Pippenger said the commission tries to increase visitation, noting these hunters are coming in and spending money in Polk County from other locations in Tennessee and other states. He pointed out these hunters are buying hunting licenses, adding the Forest Service should be proud that more people are using the WMA.

He said the commission is unclear about the issue when the Forest Service said there were increased questions and complaints from the non-hunting public who saw dogs wandering through the Forest waiting to be retrieved. Pippenger said if anything this is a good learning experience for the non-hunters.

Pippenger said a bigger concern is whether the Forest Service is strong-arming the TWRA Commission into closing the hunt in the WMA. He said there is a belief that the USFS is trying to force the closing by holding the land use for other activities or hunting seasons for other game at bay unless the coon season is abolished.

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