CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- By all accounts, West Virginia's woods last fall were crawling with nice bucks.
Hunters couldn't stop talking about how many 8- to 10-point racks they were seeing. Biologists at Division of Natural Resources game-checking stations tallied record numbers of 3- to 5-year-old whitetails.
Curiously, though, fewer bucks qualified for the state's annual awards program.
Gene Thorn, the DNR biologist who coordinates the agency's Big Buck Contest, isn't sure why so many hunters who killed nice deer chose not to have the antlers scored.
"We scored fewer deer than usual, and fewer qualified for the contest," he said. "That's kind of strange, because the quality of last year's buck crop was so high."
Only 189 hunters brought their bucks in for scoring, a 23 percent drop from the most recent five-year average. That's curious on a couple of levels. Overall, the buck harvest was just 7 percent below average, and the heavily buck-oriented bow harvest was down just 10 percent.
One would expect any drop off in trophy scoring to roughly match the overall decline in the number of bucks killed. Thorn isn't sure why trophy scoring fell off so much more.
"It was weird," he said. "At the [West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show, where DNR biologists provides an antler-scoring service], we scored a lot of deer the first evening but then it just died off.
"We ended up scoring fewer than usual, but the quality of them - my goodness - was just outstanding. We scored more Pope and Young-class bucks in that time frame than I can remember us ever handling. Normally we get a lot of bucks that score 100 to 120. The ones we scored last year seemed to run significantly larger than that."
Thorn believes unseen reasons might have prevented hunters from getting their racks scored.