"I definitely think [an abundance of acorns] played a role," he said. "Our preseason mast survey indicated that the acorn crop was a bit spotty, but where acorns 'hit,' there were lots of them.
"As a result, deer in most places stayed back in the woods, hanging around those oak flats where the acorns were. Deer weren't out in the field edges as they usually are, and thus were not as vulnerable to the gun."
The aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy might also have contributed to the decline.
"At the time the season opened, lots of downed limbs and trees still had forest roads blocked," Johansen said. "Some hunters, especially in the high-mountain counties, couldn't get to their favorite spots."
The harvest decline wasn't exactly statewide. The buck kill actually increased in DNR game-management districts IV and V, the state's southwestern and southeastern counties. The District IV harvest jumped 8 percent and the District V kill rose 2.5 percent.
The largest decreases occurred in the state's western and central counties. The kill in west-central District VI plummeted 15 percent. It dropped 10 percent in District III, smack in the center of the state.
Counties with the 10 highest kills were Preston, 2,108; Greenbrier, 1,907; Randolph, 1,792; Mason, 1,667; Jackson, 1,662; Hampshire, 1,570; Monroe, 1,563; Ritchie, 1,518; Wetzel, 1,496; and Hardy, 1,435.
Johansen said DNR biologists would have a better handle on exactly what happened once they've had a chance to analyze all the data from the buck harvest and not just the preliminary tag count.
"After all the data from the check tags get keyed into our computers, we'll be looking at the numbers six ways to Sunday trying to figure out what they're telling us," he said.
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.