By the numbers, some of the best spots to bow hunt
West Virginia's wildlife officials like to boast that bowhunters can find deer practically in their own backyards.
In some respects, they're right. Some of the state's best bow hunting can be found within the corporate limits of its largest cities. If deer can thrive there, they can thrive just about anywhere.
But just because deer are evenly distributed doesn't mean bow hunting opportunities are. Some hunting spots are indeed more equal than others.
A cursory glance at the state's 2011 bow-harvest statistics easily reveals a list of counties where archers killed the most whitetails. Those numbers, however, don't tell the full story. Counties with large surface areas tend also to have larger harvests.
Division of Natural Resources biologists measure counties' productivity by the number of deer that hunters kill in each square mile of whitetail habitat. That's a much more accurate assessment, but not foolproof either. Tiny counties tend to have grossly inflated deer-per-square-mile statistics.
So for purposes of determining which counties are truly the best bets for Mountain State archers, Woods & Waters has chosen to combine the two measurements.
The crack W&W stat squad ranked all the counties' bow harvests and deer-per-square-mile ratios and averaged them against one another. Three Northern Panhandle counties - Hancock, Brooke and Ohio - were tossed out because their tiny surface areas blew their per-square-mile statistics far out of proportion.
Here's how the top 10 broke out:
When one considers the amount of public hunting land available within the county, Preston becomes even more attractive. The 12,713-acre Coopers Rock State Forest and the 3,092-acre Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area lie mostly within the county, as does a small portion of the Monongahela National Forest's 58,798-acre Blackwater WMA.
Like its big neighbor to the east, Preston County, Monongalia also boasts an enviable array of public-land hunting opportunities. Portions of the aforementioned Coopers Rock and Snake Hill tracts lie within the county's borders, as do the 1,036-acre Little Indian Creek WMA and the 766-acre Pedlar WMA.
Still, bowhunters must be finding plenty of private land on which to hunt, or Wood's statistics wouldn't be as good as they are. The county's average of 2.42 whitetails per square mile was the state's second best in 2011. The county's raw harvest of 749 deer ranked 10th.
The county contains two extremely popular public hunting tracts: The 11,772-acre Chief Cornstalk WMA near Southside, and the 3,655-acre McClintic WMA north of Point Pleasant. McClintic is one of the state's "older-age deer management" areas, and hunters who head there should be aware that any bucks they kill must have antler spreads of at least 14 inches.
Year in and year out, Upshur performs well despite a shortage of public land. Only a small sliver of the 2,985-acre Stonecoal WMA falls within the county's borders.
And yet, there sits Raleigh County at sixth on our best-bets list. Raleigh's archers killed 812 deer last year, the state's fifth-best total, and the county tied for 13th in deer per square mile with an average of 1.48.
There are no state-owned or leased public hunting areas within the county, but most of the lands of the New River Gorge National River are open to hunting. Hunters should check with the National Park Service in Hinton, Glen Jean or Fayetteville to learn where hunting is prohibited within the park.
Wyoming's presence on the list could mean one of two things - that the county's whitetail population is larger than most people might suspect, or that the county attracts so many archers that its bow kill is artificially high.
Whatever the cause, last year Wyoming ranked ninth in bow harvest with 772 deer; and 12th in productivity with an average of 1.56 whitetails per square mile.
What's more, the county produced eight bucks that qualified for the state's Big Buck Contest, the highest total on this year's best-bets roster.
Bowhunters killed 883 whitetails there last year, fourth most in the state. Nicholas' average of 1.43 deer per square mile ranked 18th.
For public-land hunters, Nicholas is a playground. Within the county's borders can be found half of the 11,507-acre Gauley River National Recreation Area, all of the 5,974-acre Summersville Lake WMA, and a sizable chunk of the Monongahela National Forest's 35,864-acre Cranberry WMA.
Most of the county consists of small private woodlots and farms, but the 7,061-acre Amherst-Plymouth WMA near Bancroft provides a substantial destination for public-land hunters.
Two good-sized wildlife management areas provide steady, dependable public hunting opportunities - the 2,587 Frozen Camp WMA east of Ripley, and the 1,696-acre Woodrum Lake WMA near Kentuck.
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.