From all indications, this could be a banner year for trophy bucks in West Virginia.
The final verdict won't be rendered until the official scorers do their work, but the consensus seems to be that hunters killed oodles of trophy-class whitetails.
Everywhere I've checked - in taxidermist's shops, on Internet message boards, and in interviews with hunters, biologists and law enforcement officers - I've heard the same thing: A bumper crop of trophy bucks were roaming the woods this year, and hunters got a fair share of them.
True, the evidence is anecdotal, but there's an awful lot of it.
"It was fairly predictable, with the mast crop we had last fall and all those bucks carrying over into this year," said Gene Thorn, who coordinates the Division of Natural Resources' Big Buck Club. "I'm starting to get calls from folks who want to have their bucks scored [for possible Big Buck Club membership]. It sounds like it's going to be a big year."
Earlier this week, I got to compare notes with several Natural Resources Police officers from the state's southern and southeastern counties. They said they had seen an increase in poaching, and they attributed the increase to the abundance of big-antlered deer.
"There's a lot of temptation out there," one of them said.
Many of this season's poaching busts were for deer that sported impressive headgear. A few poachers, prosecuted under the state's new law that sets high replacement fees for trophy bucks, paid fines that totaled in the thousands.
Of course, most bucks were killed legally. Dustin Deaton, an official antler scorer in McDowell County, said he's already getting requests for scoring sessions.
"Most of the requests are coming from McDowell and Wyoming counties," he said. "One taxidermist told me that in his shop alone, he has 30 to 40 deer that will qualify for the Big Buck Contest."
To qualify for the contest, a bow-killed buck's antlers must score at least 125 typical or 155 non-typical. The criteria for gun kills are 140 typical and 165 non-typical. Last year, only 66 deer statewide made it into the club.