CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year's muzzleloader season for deer had a disappointing outcome, but West Virginia's wildlife officials believe it's a temporary problem.
Hunters killed 5,046 deer during the 2012 muzzleloader hunt, a 31 percent decline from the previous season's total of 7,290. Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, called the dramatic drop "nothing to worry about."
"We don't think it has anything at all to do with the number of deer available to hunters," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "We think it was caused by the change in the season's framework."
In past years, the six-day muzzleloader season took place in mid December, shortly after the end of the six-day traditional antlerless-deer season. Last year, DNR officials switched the two.
Johansen believes the kill dropped because fewer sportsmen turned out to hunt.
"When a season is new, it often takes a year or two before [hunters] fully engage in it," he said. "We think that's what happened with the muzzleloader hunt. And for that reason, we're not at all disappointed in the drop in the number of deer killed. We think it's only a matter of time before the [muzzleloader] harvest figures climb back up where they should be."
DNR officials have seen similar declines when they created new seasons or dramatically changed existing seasons' opening and closing dates.
"Any time we've had changes of any significance, it has taken a year or two for sportsmen to fully get the word about the changes," Johansen said.
"When we put an early antlerless-deer season in for Hampshire County to control chronic wasting disease, it took a year or two for people to realize they had another [deer-hunting] opportunity at their disposal. We saw the same thing happen when we changed some of our bear-season frameworks."
Johansen acknowledged, however, that he couldn't recall when a change brought about such a dramatic decline.
"Thirty-one percent is a big drop, but we honestly believe the numbers will turn around once hunters adjust to the new framework," he said.
"We have no reason to be concerned about the muzzleloader harvest, or for the season in general. At the end of the day, the move toward the beginning of December is what many of the muzzleloader hunters had been asking for."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.