Ryan attributed the change to two years in a row in which acorns and other preferred whitetail foodstuffs were relatively scarce.
"Last fall we had a spotty mast crop, and this fall it's even worse. We aren't seeing the racks this year like we saw last year," he said.
Randy Kelley, a DNR district biologist who headed up a game-checking crew in Putnam County, said this year's bucks appear to be as old as last year's, only with smaller antlers.
"As far as age is concerned, this year is almost a duplicate of last year," he said. "We're still seeing a lot of 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old bucks. Of the ones we've checked so far, less than one-fourth of them [were born this year or last year]."
Most hunters interviewed Monday said they saw several deer in addition to the ones they killed. Justin Runion, of Racine, said he and his 9-year-old son, Bradley, saw "plenty of deer" on the way to their Jackson County hunting grounds, and plenty on the return trip.
They killed both the bucks they saw after they started hunting. Justin bagged a spike and Bradley took a six-pointer, his first deer ever.
Another young hunter, 13-year-old Ashton Ratliff, of Ripley, also bagged her first buck. Hunting in Jackson County, Ratliff saw just two whitetails on opening day. One was a doe, which she didn't shoot. The other was a five-point buck, which she did.
Hunters who killed deer on Monday are almost certainly glad they did, because hunting conditions were predicted to deteriorate sharply overnight.
"The weather reported to be rolling in Tuesday and Wednesday has me concerned," said the DNR's Johansen. "Hunters who didn't kill a deer [Monday] could have a rough time of it."
The forecast, for rain Tuesday and ice and snow Wednesday, could hardly come at a worse time. Historically, the first three days of the 12-day buck season produce roughly half the state's annual whitetail kill.
"If the weather reports are accurate, all that rain and snow could have a serious impact on this year's overall harvest," Johansen said.
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.