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DNR officials expecting hunters to take advantage of earlier start to deer archery season

John McCoy
Bowhunters who want to try for a trophy buck should concentrate on the counties west of the New River and south of the Kanawha River.

CHARLESTON -- The adjustment has begun.

West Virginia's deer archery season got under way Saturday, two weeks earlier than it had in the past. Wildlife officials expect hunters to kill more deer during the lengthened season, but don't expect any major changes in sportsmen's behavior.

"The main change is hunters will enjoy a few additional days of archery-hunting opportunity," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "The real positive factor is that the new season structure will provide a couple of extra weekend days when hunters can get up into their tree stands."

To biologists, more hunting days - especially on weekends - almost always result in more deer being killed. Johansen said he expects a slight rise in this year's archery kill, especially in counties where deer are most abundant.

"Those are the counties where we have the most liberal [antlerless-deer] regulations. The longer season will afford hunters the opportunity to take more antlerless deer," he added.

In the past, Johansen couldn't be sure hunters anywhere in the state would choose to kill an antlerless deer instead of an antlered buck. This year, though, a new regulation has been put in place to force hunters to kill antlerless deer.

"In certain counties, bowhunters who take a buck must kill an antlerless deer before they're allowed to take a second antlered buck," Johansen explained.

The regulation, dubbed "earn-a-buck lite" because it applies to a hunter's second buck and not his first, will be enforced in Brooke, Hampshire, Hancock, Hardy, Marshall, eastern Mineral, Monongalia, Ohio, Tyler and Wood counties.

Some hunters dislike killing antlerless deer because they think it harms the population, but Johansen said there are plenty of whitetails to go around.

"Certainly, the deer resource can accommodate the extra days of hunting," he added. "And bowhunters are becoming increasingly friendly toward the idea of killing antlerless deer.

"Some of the really avid bowhunters in the Northern Panhandle, for example, are getting really tuned in to the idea of managing their hunting properties for quality bucks. To get the older-age, bigger-antlered bucks they want, they're harvesting more antlerless deer."

While Johansen expects the longer season to produce a higher overall kill, he doesn't anticipate any appreciable difference in the number of trophy bucks archers take.

"Most of the really big trophy bucks get killed during the rut," he explained. "No doubt there will be some killed between the start of the season and the start of the rut, but most will be killed in early to mid-November, during the weeks immediately surrounding the peak of the rut."

Johansen acknowledged, however, that hunters willing to hunt during those extra couple of weeks will enjoy better odds at taking a trophy. "Hey, the more time you spend in a tree stand, the better chance you have of having big boy come along," he said.

DNR officials are only now completing the agency's annual Mast Report and Hunting Outlook booklet, but Johansen said the availability of acorns and other "hard mast" items will have a profound effect on how many deer archers manage to kill.

"Generally speaking, in years when hard mast is abundant, the archery kill is usually lower than in years when mast is scarce," he said. "Deer that have plenty to eat tend not to move around very much, and when they don't move, they become less vulnerable to hunters."

Preliminary reports indicate that acorns will be abundant in some parts of the state, but scarce in others.

"Naturally, hunters who have done their [pre-season] scouting will know where acorns are abundant, and will set up their tree stands close to those areas," Johansen said.

Four West Virginia counties - Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming - are closed to firearm hunting for deer, and are indisputably the state's top producers of bow-killed trophy bucks. Close behind, though, are Raleigh, Fayette, Mercer, Boone, Kanawha and Lincoln, all geographically close to the Fab Four.

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1232 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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