Predictions for the upcoming hunting season
No one really knows how a hunting season will turn out.
A lot of things can go wrong. Foul weather sometimes dampens hunters' hopes. Food shortages can cause animals to change their habits. Food abundances can, too. Disease occasionally takes a toll.
There are human factors, too. It sometimes takes years for hunters to adjust to new seasons or regulation changes. Hunters who don't like the changes sometimes even "vote with their feet" and refuse to participate.
This is my 32nd year as an outdoors columnist. I'm neither an expert on wildlife nor an expert at divining hunters' thoughts. I'm an experienced observer, though, and have opinions as to things that might happen during West Virginia's 2012 hunting season.
Here are some of my thoughts:
Funny how all those concerns about meat spoilage suddenly disappear when antlers are involved. Last year, hunters couldn't be inconvenienced to put a cooler filled with ice into their vehicles; this year they'll happily do it.
Biologists acknowledge that the turkey population isn't quite as high now as it was then, but they say the fall off has more to do with hunters' tastes than turkey numbers. Many of the sportsmen who hunted turkeys in past years have switched to bowhunting for deer.
Decades' worth of DNR data show a direct relationship between mast and the way hunters kill bears. When mast is plentiful, the gun kill is higher. When mast is scarce, the bow kill is higher.
One, it's a new season, and DNR officials say it takes hunters two or three years to adjust to major season changes; two, it comes at a time just before the whitetail rut, and hunters might be more interested in bowhunting for pre-rut bucks than they are in using a gun to kill a doe; and three, many Mountain State deer hunters simply refuse to hunt antlerless deer.
You'd think that in a state where 230,000 people identify as hunters, a greater percentage would try to take advantage of abundant goose, wood duck and mallard populations. There's never been much of a waterfowl-hunting tradition here, though, and that's probably why participation remains low.
Aside from these not-so-bold predictions, the upcoming hunting season is a complete mystery. So - forward into the unknown! Have fun, everyone.