The North Carolina Wildlife Commission will propose 55 changes in hunting and fishing regulations for the 2012-13 seasons, and will present them at a series of public hearings across the state this month.

Chief among the changes are proposals that would lengthen bear season in a handful of counties in eastern North Carolina and establish seasons in several counties, change striped bass regulations on a handful of lakes and increase the size minimum on bass in western North Carolina.

Click here to see the schedule of public hearings. 

Several proposals that affect sportsmen carrying hanguns and hunting with dogs also may draw some fire from some groups.

Bear seasons would increase to two weeks in Greene, Halifax, Lenoir, Martin, Northampton and Pitt counties. Bear seasons would open in Edgecombe, Harnett, Johnston, Nash, Stokes, Vance, Warren, Wayne and Wilson counties, while portions of Cleveland, Burke and Surry counties closed to bear hunting would also open.

Dates for seasons in Yadkin, Iredell, Alexander and Catawba counties also would change.

One proposal establishes a four-fish daily creel limit and 20-inch size minimum on striped bass in Rhodhiss, Hickory and Lookout Shoals reservoirs, and another change would increase the size minimum for striped bass and hybrid striped bass on B. Everett Jordan Reservoir from 20 to 24 inches.

Another fishing proposal would increase the statewide minimum size for smallmouth bass and spotted bass from 12 to 14 inches, but permit two fish less than 14 inches to be in the daily five-fish creel. A related proposal would increase the minimum size on all black bass in public mountain trout waters in and west of Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Polk counties from 12 to 14 inches, with a two-fish exemption for short fish.

Apparently responding to an attempt by the Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority to take over fishing-regulation authority at Randleman Dam and Reservoir, the Commission proposes allowing only one bass larger than 20 inches to be retained in the daily five-fish creel limit and also set an exemption to allow two fish less than 14 inches to be included in the daily creel.

Another proposal would classify 11 tributaries of the Neuse River, one tributary of the Pamlico River and one tributary of the Northeast Cape Fear River as primary nursery areas in which spawning areas for spotted seatrout and red drum would be protected.

The proposals involving dogs and handguns deserve a closer look.

One proposal would allow hunters to use dogs on Sundays while hunting with falcons in and west of certain counties (Rockingham, Guilford, part of Alamance and Orange, Chatham, part of Wake, Lee, Randolph, Montgomery, Stanly, Union and part of Anson) that already allow dog hunting. Because Sunday hunting with firearms is prohibited and dogs aren't used during archery or crossbow hunting for deer, the rule applies only to Sunday hunting with falcons. Some falconers use upland gamebird dogs to point birds; others use them to flush waterfowl.

Another proposed measure involving handguns may stir up controversy. It allows archery hunters to carry a .22-rimfire pistol to dispatch a wounded deer – a caliber that may be too small to do the job adequately – where as state law already allows concealed-carry permit owners to carry handguns of any caliber in North Carolina at any time.

A second proposal allows hunters who have concealed-carry permits to carry handguns during dog-training exercises on public and private lands during archery and muzzleloader seasons – but only at those gamelands where handguns are permitted.

The North Carolina Bowhunters Association appears ready to oppose the first handgun proposal, fearing that it may encourage archers to obtain a concealed-carry permit so they can carry a handgun larger than .22 caliber during archery season, and because it may open the door for "ethically challenged" hunters to shoot at deer with larger-caliber handguns during archery season.

Another proposal would allow the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's executive director to waive rules prohibiting the importation of deer and elk carcasses or body parts from states that have documented cases of chronic wasting disease if the animal was taken within 20 miles of the North Carolina border. The law aims to allow hunters to bring deer back from Virginia, the only state bordering North Carolina with active CWD in its deer herd, because the lone CWD case was from a county 200 miles from North Carolina.