There's still time to bag an antlerless deer
For many of West Virginia's deer hunters, the antlerless-deer season is over.
Nine days remain, however, for those who still wish to bring home a doe or a button buck - the three-day "traditional" antlerless season Dec. 13-15 and the "family" antlerless season Dec. 26-27 and 28-31.
"Hunters should not overlook the portion of the antlerless hunting that is left," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "There are plenty of deer out there, and these remaining segments of the antlerless season provide plenty of opportunities for our sportsmen to put some extra venison in the freezer."
The first opportunity will occur during the traditional season, which DNR officials dramatically altered for 2012.
In years past, the traditional season lasted six days and began in early December. The traditional season that begins Dec. 13 will last three days. DNR officials changed the configuration to compensate for a new three-day, late-October antlerless season.
"Basically, what we did was to split the traditional season and move three days of it to October," Johansen explained. "The difference between the two segments is that the October portion was open only on private lands. The December part is open on public and private lands, with restrictions on some wildlife management areas."
The devil is in the details, of course, so public-land hunters who want to avoid trouble should consult the DNR hunting regulations pamphlet for the names of wildlife management areas that will remain open during the three-day hunt.
In the traditional season's former six-day December configuration, it accounted for roughly one-fourth of the state's annual antlerless-deer harvest. Johansen doesn't expect the upcoming three-day season to be quite that productive.
"I would be surprised if [the new season] accounts for 25 percent of the kill," he said.
"I do think that since it runs Thursday through Saturday, and since the Dec. 13 opening provides a 12-day gap between the end of the buck season and the reopening of the antlerless season, that hunters will turn out in better numbers than they did for past traditional seasons. That Thursday-through-Saturday time frame usually attracts more hunting pressure, so the harvest should be significant."
Weather could play a role in the season's outcome. DNR officials might have essentially created a second "opening day" by moving the hunt back a week, but at the same time they increased the chance that the always-fickle December weather might turn sour.
Johansen acknowledged that weather might affect the harvest, but didn't seem all that concerned about it.
"Bad weather might suppress the harvest some, but I don't think it will suppress it all that much," he said.
The final six days of antlerless-deer hunting, usually referred to as the family antlerless season, is actually two mini-seasons held back-to-back. The first two days, Dec. 26-27, are reserved for youth, handicapped and properly licensed senior hunters. The final four days, Dec. 28-31, are for anyone who still has an unfilled antlerless tag.
"The idea of these seasons is to allow people who have come home for the Christmas holiday to have a chance not only to enjoy the holiday, but also to get in a little hunting," Johansen said.
"So many of our folks have had to leave West Virginia for one reason or another, and they like to come back for the holiday season. Our hope is they'll also want to be out deer hunting during that time."