"A few years back, we got a lot of trophy bucks from the southern part of the state and almost none from anywhere else," Thorn said. "Now we're getting Big Buck Club qualifiers from the central, northern and western parts of the state."
This year's Big Buck roster includes deer from Wood, Ritchie, Randolph, Monongalia, Marshall, Preston, Harrison and Tucker counties. Until recently, those counties rarely produced trophy-class bucks.
"Another interesting thing is that so many of the deer showed up at scoring stations statewide," Thorn said. "Usually we get a whole bunch scored at the [West Virginia Hunting and Fishing] Show in Charleston, and most of those are from the southern counties. This year we didn't score as many at the show, and we scored a lot more elsewhere."
Since the late 1980s, the state's four bowhunting-only counties - Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming - dominated the Big Buck Club statistics. This year, their dominance slipped a bit.
Wyoming led the state with 11 honorees, followed by Kanawha with eight, McDowell with six and Logan with four. Mason, Mercer, Mingo and Wood had three apiece.
Contrast those totals to 2009, when bow-only counties dominated the list: McDowell 19, Logan 14, Wyoming 10, Kanawha six, Putnam and Mercer four, Boone and Jackson three.
Thorn said further evidence of the state's changing big-buck picture can be found game-checking stations, where every fall DNR biologists monitor the ages, body weights and antler beam diameters of whitetails brought in by hunters.
"We're required to keep working until we've checked at least 100 [year-and-a-half old] deer," he explained. "I work a station in Upshur County. It used to be that we'd fill our quota the first evening. Now, because we're getting so many older-age bucks, it takes us three days to get 100 yearlings."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.