CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Foul weather dampened West Virginia's 2013 firearm season for buck deer but didn't wash it away.
Preliminary statistics from state wildlife officials show that hunters killed 56,333 bucks during the Nov. 25-Dec. 1 season, almost exactly the same number killed the previous year. Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, said the harvest "pleasantly surprised" agency biologists.
"Given the weather conditions, particularly on the season's second and third days, we were expecting the kill to be less than it was," Johansen said.
Normally, more than two-thirds of the annual whitetail harvest occurs during the season's first three days. This year's opening-day conditions were almost ideal, but rain on the season's second day and snow on the third caused many hunters to give up and head home for the Thanksgiving holiday.
"When that happened, we figured we were looking at a lower-than-expected kill," Johansen said. "But, apparently, hunters either persevered through terrible weather or they came back later in the week to try to get a deer."
Johansen said a statewide acorn-crop failure also might have contributed to hunters' success.
"Deer weren't in the woods looking for acorns; they were out in fields and along field edges, looking for whatever food they could find," he said. "Because they were out in the open and more visible than usual, they became more vulnerable to the gun.
"I strongly suspect that, if we hadn't had such a lack of [acorns], the weather would have suppressed the kill more than it did."
Hunters in most of the state's 55 counties were allowed to kill antlered bucks and antlerless deer. Biologists haven't yet counted antlerless-deer tags because the antlerless seasons haven't yet ended. Johansen said, though, that he wouldn't be surprised if this year's antlerless harvest closely parallels last year's.
"I think now we'll see a season roughly equivalent to what our expectations were," he said.
According to the preliminary buck-tag count, hunters in the state's Western counties fared better than those in the mountains and in the Northern Panhandle. The district that includes the Ohio River counties between Ripley and St. Marys showed nearly a 30 percent increase over the 2012 season. The Eastern Panhandle counties showed a slight increase, while the rest of the state declined a bit.
Hunters in Jackson County led the state by killing 1,914 bucks. The rest of the top 10 counties included: Ritchie, 1,909; Roane, 1,878; Preston, 1,753; Lewis, 1,685; Hampshire, 1,637; Braxton, 1,623; Wood, 1,599; Wetzel, 1,534; and Greenbrier, 1,529.
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.