Real hunters choose wilderness

By Linda Bentley | January 6, 2010

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attention hunter sign
The “Attention Hunters” sign on Fleming Springs Road signifies local activist Anna Marsolo’s success in petitioning the Arizona Game and Fish Department to close off sections 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15 in Township 6 North, Range 4 East to hunting in Game Management Unit 21, which includes approximately 644 acres within the town of Cave Creek in sections 14 and 15.    Photo by Linda Bentley

CAVE CREEK – Hunting in Arizona, like open range cattle, is permitted in certain areas. If people don’t want open range cattle on their property, they need to fence them out. And, if folks don’t want hunters on their private property, they need to post signs indicating such.
Although local activist Anna Marsolo was successful in getting five sections of land closed off to hunters in Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) Game Management Unit 21 and a sign is posted on Fleming Springs Road to that effect, every year during hunting season, Cave Creek Town Marshal Adam Stein and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office receive calls from local residents about hunters in areas callers say are off limits.

This year is no different. Calls and e-mails to Stein and MCSO about bow hunters in Cave Creek started up again last week along with the annual claims of sightings of a deer running around with an arrow in it.

Unit 21 is bounded by I-17 on the west, stretching from the Verde River (Camp Verde) south to New River Road; east to Fig Springs Road; northeasterly on Fig Springs Road to the Tonto National Forest boundary; northeasterly along this boundary to the Verde River; then north along the Verde River back to I-17.

Species found within Unit 21, but not necessarily in all areas of the unit, include antelope, black bear, elk, javelina, mule deer, white-tailed deer, quail and pronghorn.

It is currently archery season for javelina and deer, which began Dec. 11 and runs through the end of January. Rifle hunting season follows.

A portion of Cave Creek also falls in Unit 26M, which encompasses several other incorporated areas including the cities of Surprise, Peoria, El Mirage, Youngtown, Buckeye, Litchfield Park, Goodyear, Avondale, Sun City and Scottsdale. Each of these cities has restrictions on discharging firearms within city limits. Hunters should check with local municipalities each year on the city boundaries and weapon restrictions. In addition, hunters need to ensure that they are more than 1/4 mile from all residences when hunting.

Cave Creek Town Code states: “It is unlawful to discharge a firearm within the town, except in an area recommended as a hunting area by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, approved and posted as required by the town marshal, but any such area may be closed when deemed unsafe by the town marshal or the director of the Game and Fish Department.”

Stein said unless people are trespassing on private property posted to prohibit such, there isn’t anything he can do about hunters in a designated game management unit.

MCSO made contact with the hunters and determined they were duly licensed.

Laws regulating hunting fall under Title 17 of Arizona Revised Statutes. However, there are additional rules and regulations issued by the AZGFD Commission.

One such Commission rule stated individuals participating in an archery-only season “shall not use or possess any other weapon during these seasons.”

With personal protection and safety becoming an issue over the past few years, especially for archery hunters in areas along the Mexican border, the Commission revised that rule and now allows participants in archery-only seasons, statewide, to carry a non-hunting handgun for personal protection and safety.

A non-hunting handgun is defined as a gun with a barrel length of six inches or less that does not have a scope or any type of electronic site.

Arizona’s laws are interesting. While it is unlawful to “discharge a firearm while taking wildlife within one-forth mile of an occupied farmhouse or other residence, cabin, lodge or building without permission of the owner or resident,” there is no such restriction for archery or target shooting in unincorporated county areas if one is not taking wildlife. In other words, it's technically legal to target shoot in unincorporated county areas regardless of proximity to dwellings or permission from owners, although there are other laws that could apply under the criminal code, such as endangerment, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

One of AZGFD’s Frequently Asked Questions includes, “Can I shoot pigeons?”

The answer posted states, “Yes. As far as the AZGFD is concerned, it is legal to kill pigeons. These are considered domestic and therefore do not have licensing requirements.”

However, it also states there are band-tailed pigeons in the state that are considered wildlife with bag limits that require a hunting license and a migratory bird stamp.

Apparently, shooting pigeons is not considered hunting, as it is not taking of wildlife, in which case, along with target practice, shooting pigeons is also allowed in the county without regard to the proximity of dwellings.

Field Management Supervisor Pat Crouch believed when AZGFD closed off of sections 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15 to hunting in Unit 21, the problems would be solved and complaints would cease regarding hunting in Cave Creek. However, that has proven not to be the case.

And, even though hunters are provided a map showing where they may and may not hunt in Unit 21, which, in addition to the five closed sections, excludes Cave Creek Recreation Area, Crouch said it’s not as easy to determine some of those boundaries when on the ground.

There are vast expanses of vacant private land, both within and outside Cave Creek’s boundaries, abutting state land, BLM land, Spur Cross Recreation Area and Tonto National Forest, which are in game management units open to hunting.

If private land is not posted with “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs, there is no prohibition to hunting on private land.

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Supervisor John Gunn said the abundance of wildlife seen in the town of Cave Creek, which also draws hunters to the area, can be partially attributed to people feeding the wildlife.

He said, “Real hunters hone their skills in the wilderness,” rather than on the urban fringes where people feed the wildlife for the enjoyment of seeing it.

Gunn said there are probably more deer within the town limits than there are out in the wild.
Crouch agrees and reiterated how detrimental feeding wildlife has been to the very animals people claim to enjoy seeing.