"Now [1 1/2-year-old] bucks make up only 50 percent of the harvest," he added. "That allows more bucks to grow to that 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old age at which they start growing pretty nice antlers."
Shaw said that as older-aged bucks have become more abundant, hunters also have grown increasingly reluctant to kill young bucks with inferior racks.
"Hey, if you see a spike buck and a nice 8-pointer at the same time, which one are you going to shoot?" he asked.
Hunters who brought their bucks to Shaw's station on opening day were apparently of that same mindset. Eight- and 10-point racks outnumbered spikes and 4-pointers by a wide margin.
David Clark of St. Albans said he only saw one buck on opening morning, but it turned out to be a 2 1/2-year-old with a nice 9-point rack. David Hobba of Buffalo and his hunting partner, Kyle Leadman of Hurricane, both killed 2 1/2-year-olds -- Hobba an 8-pointer and Leadman a 9-pointer.
Steven Gibson of Leon killed a 3 1/2-year-old buck that sported a heavy 10-point rack -- a true trophy. Gibson said he watched the buck chase a doe for nearly 45 minutes before it came within range of his .30-06.
"I think I'm going to have this one mounted," he said happily.
DNR officials expect hunters to kill approximately 60,000 bucks before the season ends shortly after sunset Dec. 1. They also expect hunters to take about 20,000 antlerless deer -- roughly half the annual antlerless-deer harvest.
With favorable weather forecast for most of the state through Wednesday, Johansen said hunters might exceed biologists' expectations.
"Most of the kill occurs on the first three days of the season and the two Saturdays," he said. "When we have good weather on those days, we generally enjoy a nice harvest."Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or email johnmc...@wvgazette.com.