CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia wildlife officials say severe winter weather could kill off thousands of hungry white-tailed deer.
"It will all depend on how severe the winter is," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "If the winter is normal to mild, mortality should be minimal. If we get severe weather, mortality could be significant."
Biologists don't often worry about winter mortality, but a recent chain of events has them thinking about it.
Food for deer has been scarce for two years in a row. Acorns, a whitetail staple, were scarce during the fall of 2012 and are almost nonexistent this year. The lack of acorns will probably send hundreds of thousands of whitetails into the winter months in poorer-than-usual nutritional condition.
To make matters worse, there will be tens of thousands more hungry mouths to feed.
Inclement weather during two of the first three days of the state's firearm buck season will almost certainly keep hunters from killing as many deer as DNR officials had anticipated.
Most of the annual harvest occurs during the first season's first three days. Weather was ideal on opening day, but early reports from game-checking stations indicated a relatively light kill. Rain on the season's second day and snow on its third held the kill far below expectations.
Johansen said thousands of deer that should have been killed by now are still out roaming the woods.
"Those deer will be competing with the rest for what little food is available," he added. "The worst-case scenario would be for us to have a really bad winter with several heavy snowstorms. If that happens, some deer will starve."