Although West Virginia adopted Virginia’s game and fish code when it became a state in 1863, the Mountain State created its first game laws – and its first hunting season – in 1869.
Unlike today’s hunting regulations, the 1869 game laws were very simple. Killing certain species of birds was prohibited. All game shared the same hunting season, Feb. 14 – Sept. 15. Although the laws were in place, there was agency devoted to enforcing them at the time.
However, it is interesting to note that the West Virginia Legislature created what is today the DNR Law Enforcement Section more than 20 years before it created the West Virginia State Police.
In 1897, the legislature created the office of Game and Fish Warden. It wasn’t much of an office, however, as it was basically limited to one man – the game and fish warden himself. In 1901, lawmakers gave the warden power to hire deputies, but gave him no money to do so. The deputies were basically freelancers who could keep whatever fines they collected, but got no other pay.
West Virginia’s first hunting license requirement was in 1899 and for non-residents only (residents required no license). The annually-renewed license cost $25, leading to two classes of hunters in the state – residents and well-to-do. Adjusted for inflation, that 1899 license would cost nearly $650 in today’s dollars. In 1906, thankfully, that license fee was reduced to $15 – a cost of more than $350 in today’s dollars. The game warden kept $1 of that fee.
In 1909, West Virginia passed its first significant regulations – and gave the game and fish warden the teeth to enforce it by hiring full-time deputy wardens. The regulation made it illegal to ship game out-of-state. This state legislation was basically a mirror of the federal Lacey Act of 1900, but now it could be enforced and bring to a close commercial market hunting that had decimated so many of the state’s game species.
Moreover, that legislative session created the state’s first statewide hunting license for residents. It cost $1 ($23 when adjusted for inflation and about the same real cost as today). As a funding source, it was a huge-success, even though landowners could hunt on their own land – as well as that of their consenting neighbors without one. More than 24,000 licenses were sold.
Fish and Game Warden J.H. Marcum had been pushing hard for it as a vital game-management tool.
“No state,” Marcum told legislators in his report to the legislature, “after adopting the license system has ever repealed the law.
Naturally, the state of West Virginia repealed the resident-license requirement the following year. In 1915, the legislature created a new license allowing people to hunt in their county of residence for free. If you wanted to hunt in another county, however, you had to pay $3 for your license.