Fewer trophy bucks being scored doesn’t mean fewer trophy bucks
When fewer hunters ask to have their trophy bucks scored, that must mean there are fewer trophy bucks, right?
West Virginia's 2011 deer seasons were, by all accounts, a trophy hunter's bonanza. Sportsmen killed literally thousands of bucks with eight or more antler points and antler spreads that exceeded 14 inches.
Still, only 242 hunters decided to have their trophies officially scored for entry in the Division of Natural Resources' Big Buck Contest, 17 percent fewer than 2010's total of 292.
So why did fewer hunters seek to have their trophies scored?
Gene Thorn, who administers the program for the DNR, is still scratching his head over that one.
"I really don't know," he said. "Maybe guys who killed nice - but not huge - bucks knew that a lot of really big bucks were being taken and didn't bother to have theirs scored. This year at the [West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show], we didn't score nearly as many 100- to 120-inch bucks as we usually do."
In fact, Thorn attributed most of the discrepancy between the number of deer checked in 2010 and 2011 to fewer deer being checked at that one show.
"Usually we score the vast majority of each year's crop of deer at the show. This year we had a huge number of guys show up to have their deer scored on Friday, but on Saturday and Sunday hardly anyone showed up," he said.
"If those two days had kept pace with Friday, we would easily have matched or exceeded 2010's total."
Thorn's answer raises another question:
If fewer hunters had their bucks scored, why was there a dramatic increase in the number of trophies that qualified for the DNR's Big Buck Contest?
In 2010, only 65 bucks qualified. In 2011, that number jumped to 106, a stunning 63 percent increase.
"I think [the increase] speaks to the quality of the bucks that were available to hunters last year," Thorn said. "The number of gun-killed bucks that qualified [for the Big Buck Contest] was more than three times the number we had in 2010. And they came from everywhere in the state, not just the big-buck counties south of [W.Va.] 60."
Thorn said the number of big bucks even had DNR biologists buzzing.
"Our guys who worked at game-checking stations were commenting on the quality of the bucks coming through. There were definitely more big bucks being killed," he said.
That quality showed up in the number of bucks that qualified for the Pope & Young Club record book, which requires bigger antlers than does the Big Buck Contest.
"I probably processed four times as many Pope & Young entries as normal,'' he said. "It seems like every other deer scored qualified for Pope & Young. I spent all weekend at the Hunt Show helping guys fill out paperwork for their entries."
The two biggest gun-killed bucks came from Lincoln and Mercer counties. Jonah Adkins of Branchland headed up the typical category with an 11-pointer from Lincoln County that scored 1631/8. Brandon Dishner of Athens got the biggest non-typical, a 19-pointer that scored 165 4/8.
The two largest bow kills were taken by David Miller of Hurricane, who bagged a Mingo County 12-pointer that not only scored 1716/8, but also was the fourth-largest typical buck ever killed in West Virginia by a bowhunter.
Charles Daniel topped the non-typical category with a Cabell County 15-pointer that scored 169 1/8.
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.