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DNR officials hoping to end hunting season on a high note

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Time is short to put venison in the freezer.

With two weeks remaining in the calendar year, West Virginia's deer hunters are left with only a handful of opportunities to fill their tags and end the 2013 hunting season on a high note.

And, except for the remaining days of the archery season, all of those opportunities revolve around antlerless deer.

They are, in order: The archery season, which began Sept. 28 and ends on Dec. 31; the Dec. 19-21 "traditional" antlerless-deer season; the Dec. 26-27 antlerless-deer season for youth and the handicapped; and the Dec. 28-31 "family" antlerless-deer season.

Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, believes hunters' weather-driven lack of success during earlier whitetail seasons will have them raring to go during the season's final weeks.

"Assuming the weather cooperates, I think there's going to be an interest in getting back out there," Johansen said. "They've endured some miserable weather conditions so far, and if they've failed to connect thus far, they'll be interested in putting venison in the freezer."  

DNR officials haven't yet counted all the tags from earlier seasons, so they don't yet know how many deer have been killed. Johansen acknowledged, however, that biologists anticipate a lower-than-expected harvest.

"If [the numbers] come in much lower than anticipated, it won't surprise me because of the weather," he said.

In 1992, when weather stifled hunters' success during the buck and antlerless-deer seasons, DNR officials tacked a few days of extra antlerless-deer hunting onto the season to help hunters fill their freezers, and to help the agency whittle down the deer herd.

Asked if this year's poor buck and antlerless kills might spur a similar response, Johansen's answer was blunt: "No. I don't think we're in a situation that's serious enough to warrant an emergency extension of the season, and we have no plans to do so at this point."

He added, though, that DNR administrators are hoping that hunters who head afield in late December will enjoy better weather than they've had so far. "Goodness knows they deserve a break," he said.

Johansen has particularly high hopes for the Dec. 26-27 youth/handicap and Dec. 28-31 family seasons. Over the past five years, those two seasons have accounted for almost 16 percent of the state's antlerless-deer harvest.

"I think there's a real interest in those seasons," he said. "The term 'family' is so appropriate. You have young people hunting, usually with loved ones, and you have families spending the days after Christmas taking part in the time-honored tradition of deer hunting."

Now, if the weather would just cooperate ...

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


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