CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wildlife officials have some timely advice for West Virginia's bowhunters: If you want to bag a deer this fall, you'd better get out and scout.
"Pre-season scouting is more important than ever," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "Hunters need to get out into the woods and identify where apples, crabapples and acorns are abundant, because that's probably where deer are going to congregate."
DNR biologists haven't yet finalized their annual Mast Report and Hunting Forecast, but Johansen said field observers are reporting a spotty acorn crop and a relatively abundant soft-mast crop.
"Based on that, hunters will probably find deer around apple and crabapples, two of their favorite soft-mast foods," Johansen said. "And hunters probably won't find deer on oak flats, unless that particular oak flat happened to 'hit.'"
Food sources will be especially important during the weeks between the Sept. 28 opening day and the whitetail 'rut,' or mating season, which usually peaks in early to mid-November.
"All bets are off once the rut comes in, but for the early part of the season, food determines how much deer move and where they move," Johansen said.
The amount of time between opening day and the rut expanded dramatically last year when the state Natural Resources Commission voted to begin the season on the Saturday closest to the first day of October, roughly two weeks earlier than the traditional mid-October opener.
"The idea was to create extra days of recreation. The commission expanded hunting opportunities, and that's always a good thing," Johansen said.
DNR officials expected hunters to kill more deer during the lengthened season, but that didn't happen. The harvest actually fell 6.2 percent, from 27,404 in 2011 to 25,714 in 2012.
The decline didn't cause much concern because the firearm buck kill, which accounts for the largest share of the overall whitetail harvest, fell by a slightly larger percentage.
"Obviously, opening the archery season earlier didn't have a major effect on the harvest," Johansen said.
Another regulation change, new for the upcoming season, will allow hunters to kill up to two deer in a single day, provided one of them is antlerless.
"That's a big deal," Johansen said. "Most hunters have only a limited amount of time to go afield. With the new regulation, if a guy kills a deer in the morning, he can go back out in the afternoon and kill an additional deer. I think [the change] will be very popular with hunters."