"I think maybe a lot of guys weren't able to get their bucks back from the taxidermist in time for the show," he said. "With the overall buck quality so high, the taxidermists could have been swamped. If that was the case, a lot of bucks killed in 2012 might get scored next year and show up in next year's Big Buck Contest rankings."
Thorn also believes superstorm Sandy had an effect.
"It really affected deer hunting, especially in the central part of the state where it hit hardest," he said. "People weren't able to get around because downed trees were blocking the roads. In a lot of places, even the simple act of walking in the woods was made difficult."
Despite the disappointing overall numbers, Thorn liked what he saw in the bucks that qualified for Big Buck status.
"It was encouraging to see how widely they were distributed throughout the state," he said. "It used to be that almost all the trophies came from the bow-only counties - Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming - or from counties that touched their borders. Now we're getting trophies from every region in the state."
Last fall, 35 counties produced bucks that qualified for the Big Buck contest. By comparison, in 2005, only 18 counties were represented.
Some of the counties had rarely, if ever, made the list before. Hampshire County, for example, isn't known for bragging-sized bucks. Neither is Harrison, Tucker, Taylor, Upshur, Pendleton, Calhoun, Ohio, Lewis, Hancock or Marion.
The top trophy producers didn't change much. Wyoming County yielded 13 Big Buck honorees, Logan nine, McDowell eight and Mingo five. Kanawha, Raleigh and Lincoln produced four each.
"Every part of the state has big bucks now," Thorn said. "Some counties where you never would have found trophy bucks showed up on the list this year."