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Survey shows few W.Va. deer hunters reach bag limit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In West Virginia, hunters who kill a second turkey or bear in a single season are said to be "tagged out," meaning they've reached the legal bag limit and can't kill any more.

Deer hunters face a much more daunting task. To tag out, they'd have to kill 10 deer, a number so large most hunters don't try to approach it.

A survey commissioned by the state Division of Natural Resources showed that only 1 percent of state-resident deer hunters - roughly 1,580 people - kill as many as six whitetails in a season. Percentages of hunters who kill seven to 10 deer are so low they don't even register, although the DNR's Chris Ryan believes they might exist.

"There likely were a few people [who kill that many], but not enough to show up in the percentages," said Ryan, the agency's game management services supervisor.

The survey showed that in 2010, the year in which the survey was conducted, 49 percent of all deer hunters went home empty-handed. Twenty-seven percent killed one whitetail, 13 percent killed two, 6 percent killed three, and 2 percent killed four or five.

On average, a West Virginia deer yields about 35 pounds of venison. A hunter who managed to fill all 10 of his license tags would end up with roughly 350 pounds of meat.

Ryan said it's possible - highly unlikely, but theoretically possible - for a hunter to put in the freezer even more venison than that.

"The 10-deer limit is only for the major West Virginia deer seasons," he explained. "Our season regulations allow hunters to take three deer during the archery season, three during the antlerless season, two during the buck season and two during the muzzleloader season.

"But the season regulations don't take into account special 'managed' hunts such as urban deer hunts, hunts on state parks, hunts on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, or the youth/handicap season."

Statewide urban-hunt regulations allow hunters to take up to seven deer a year in urban hunts, and - with all the proper licenses - up to three during the youth/handicap seasons. Add in one deer each at the Blennerhassett Island, Stonewall Jackson and observatory hunts, and the state's theoretical bag limit skyrockets to 23.

Ryan said it's doubtful that any Mountain State hunter has ever killed as many as 10, mainly because of the time it would have taken.

"In addition, guys have their things they like to do," he added. "Some like the buck gun season, others like archery, others like muzzleloaders. A lot of guys cross over between disciplines, but for someone to do that and limit out is highly unlikely."

He said West Virginia's new regulation that allows hunters to kill up to two deer a day might boost the number of hunters who attempt to tag out.

"Ohio doesn't have a daily bag limit, and it certainly helped me to limit out over there last year. I was hunting on my mom's property, and in one day-and-a-half span I had four antlerless deer hanging. I ended up getting my limit of six."

In West Virginia, the number of people who kill more than one deer a season appears to be rising. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of hunters who killed two deer rose from 12 to 13 percent; the number who killed three rose from 4 to 6 percent; and the number who killed five rose from 1 to 2 percent.

"The good news is that more than half our hunters get at least one deer a season," Ryan said. "That's a pretty good success rate."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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