CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- So this year's buck kill came in at 56,333.
With better weather the total probably would have been higher, but at least the number lived up to wildlife officials' expectations. Before the season began, Division of Natural Resources biologists predicted a kill roughly equivalent to last year's. They came within a tenth of a percent of hitting that number on the proverbial schnozz.
According to the lady who left a voice-mail message for me last week, the total should have been nearly four times higher. She said a friend had told her that hunters "could be killing 200,000 bucks a year if [DNR officials] would only let them."
Let's examine that possibility.
Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief, said the state's pre-season deer herd contains roughly 1 million whitetails.
"And that's a pretty generous estimate," he added. "With the population reductions we've had in recent years, the actual number may be closer to 900,000."
Johansen said the herd almost certainly contains enough bucks to allow a kill of 200,000.
"There likely are that many legal bucks, and from a purely theoretical standpoint, we could remove every one of them at this time of the year and not have a significant biological impact because breeding has already taken place," he added.
"Next year's breeding would be performed by this year's cohort of sub-legal bucks. By next fall, those bucks would be a year and a half old and would be ready and very eager to mate."
Johansen doubts, however, that hunters would be able to kill 200,000 bucks even if DNR officials created regulations to encourage it.
"The reality of removing that many bucks from a state's deer population is far more complicated than the theory of it," he said.