Last year was particularly good for trophy seekers. Firearm hunters bagged 27 whitetails that qualified for the DNR's Big Buck Club, a 145 percent increase from 2010, a 136 percent increase from 2009 and a 35 percent increase from 2008.
Foster isn't predicting similar success for 2012, but he did predict that hunters would kill approximately 60,000 bucks before the season ends.
"That harvest would be similar to last year's," he said. "A couple of factors should contribute to that. Following the banner mast crop in 2010, we had a really good fawn crop in 2011. The bucks in that fawn crop will be yearlings this year, so hunters should have a lot more young bucks to hunt."
Sportsmen who aren't concerned about killing big-antlered deer should find oodles of those young bucks in counties where deer are most abundant. Foster said the counties from the Northern Panhandle down along the Ohio River boast the highest whitetail concentrations.
"If you look at last year's buck kill, those were the counties with the highest numbers of bucks killed per square mile," he added. "Those would be the best places for hunters to go if they aren't interested in trophies."
DNR officials estimate that as many as 300,000 hunters will venture into the woods for Monday's opener. Paul Johansen, the agency's assistant wildlife chief, calls the buck season a "bonanza" for small businesses, especially in deer-rich rural areas.
"During the buck season, there are lots of hunters spending lots of dollars in small communities," Johansen said. "I'm no economist, but I've heard that dollars spent in small communities circulate longer, and that increases the economic impact."
Those 300,000 hunters are roughly equivalent to the number of people who attend five sold-out West Virginia University football games. In the case of the WVU fans, the financial impact would be spread out over most of a 12-week season. For hunters, the impact occurs over just 12 days.
"And when you think about it, the buck season's impact is concentrated even more than that," Johansen said. "The real push of the buck season occurs during the first three days of the season and the following Saturdays. That really concentrates the cash inflow to those small rural businesses.
"The bottom line is that the buck season means bucks to hunters and bucks - the green kind - to West Virginia's business people."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.