CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Without hunting or natural predators to thin their numbers, deer can breed themselves straight into starvation.
That's why controlled whitetail hunts are so commonplace in cities, housing developments, state parks and other erstwhile no-hunting zones throughout West Virginia.
When deer herds reach densities of 60 to 100 animals per square mile or more, they can browse away almost all the new growth in a given area of forest. Visit a place with too many deer and chances are you'll see a "browse line" about 4 feet off the ground - green above the line and bare underneath it.
Before officials at Wood County's Blennerhassett Island State Park started conducting controlled, limited-access deer hunts, biologists conducted a highly accurate census and counted 557 whitetails on the 450-acre island. That's equivalent to 792 deer per square mile.
Controlled hunts have kept the population from getting that high again. The success of the Blennerhassett hunts encouraged parks officials to hold similar hunts at Stonewall Resort State Park in Lewis County.
This fall, they'll do it again. Division of Natural Resources officials have begun accepting applications for a Blennerhassett hunt, scheduled for Nov. 12 and 14, and a Stonewall hunt Nov. 18-20. A third hunt, at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Pocahontas County, will be held Oct. 18-19.
All three hunts allow hunting with archery equipment or with firearms. Applicants must specify on their application which method they wish to use. Center-fire rifles aren't allowed at the observatory hunt, but muzzleloaders and slug-firing shotguns are OK.
The state park hunts allow joint applications by up to two people. The observatory hunt allows parties of up to four people.