CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wildlife officials aren't sure whether hunters killed more deer than usual on Monday's buck season opening day, but they're certain of one thing -- most of the bucks had nice racks.
"We're seeing some really decent bucks," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, who helped operate a game-checking station in Raleigh County. "Not surprisingly, we're seeing a lot of smiles on a lot of hunters."
Johansen said Monday's weather -- clear and cool, with very little wind -- contributed to hunters' success.
"It's been so long since we had ideal opening day weather that I honestly can't remember how long it's been," he said. "I'm not certain how many deer are being killed, but I am certain the weather is helping."
Johansen said he and other biologists had been "pretty steadily busy" all day long, weighing, measuring and determining the ages of all the deer brought to their stations.
"We haven't yet seen any 'record-book' bucks, but we've seen a lot of 8- and 10-pointers," he said. "A lot of the bucks are 2 1/2 years or older, and those are the ones that tend to have better racks."
Kem Shaw, assistant wildlife biologist for the state's southwestern counties, said he saw much the same thing at his Putnam County check station.
"Most of the deer we're checking are at least 2 1/2 years old, and several have been 3 1/2," Shaw said. "We even had two bucks and one doe that were 5 1/2. We've seen a lot of bucks with 8-, 9- and 10-point racks."
Shaw said he remembers when almost all the deer killed during the buck season were only 1 1/2 years old and had scrawny antlers.
"Twenty years ago, 85 to 90 percent of the bucks killed were [1 1/2 years old]," he said. "That has changed pretty dramatically since we started allowing hunters to kill antlerless deer during the buck season."
DNR officials began allowing the antlerless-deer option during the 1997 season. Shaw said that since many hunters simply want venison for the freezer, they are more than happy to bag an antlerless deer if no antlered bucks happen within rifle range.