Hunting is big in West Virginia - so big, in fact, there aren't enough days in the fall to squeeze it all in.
So state wildlife officials are doing the only thing they can do. They're moving seasons from the fall into late summer. Five years ago, only two seasons began in September. This year, the number climbs to six.
Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the shift toward earlier seasons was a move agency officials simply had to make.
"If I had a magic wand and could generate additional fall hunting days I'd do it," Johansen said. "Hunting is so near and dear to us West Virginians that we have trouble satisfying the need. There are lots of critters to pursue, and lots of people who want to pursue them. We want to accommodate as many of those interests as possible.
"The more seasons we open, though, the more things get compressed. We don't want to create conflicts among user groups, so we've tried to capture some additional days by adding days on the front end of the season."
The trend began four years ago when members of the state Natural Resources Commission created two new antlerless-deer seasons and scheduled them for mid to late September. They also created a September firearm season for black bears in counties where bear populations are too high.
Last year, commission members voted to open squirrel season in early September instead of early October. This last spring, they voted to eliminate the two September antlerless-deer seasons and open the archery seasons for deer and bear on the Saturday closest to Oct. 1. That Saturday falls on Sept. 29 this year.
That's a far cry from half a decade ago, when only the early season for resident Canada geese and the season for mourning doves began in September. Johansen said wildlife officials considered shifting the closing dates of some of the big-game hunting seasons into January, but decided that might create conflicts with grouse and waterfowl hunters.
"The sense among our staff, and among the public, was to avoid spreading big-game hunting opportunities into [a time period] that traditionally had been used only by bird hunters," he said.
The ultimate success or failure of early hunting seasons depends on the hunters. Johansen said hunters who filled out questionnaires at the DNR's annual sectional meetings generally have endorsed season shifting, primarily because the shifts create additional days of hunting.
"We have never gotten 100 percent endorsement, though," he added