Well, it's official. West Virginians aren't the "huntingest" people in the country.They aren't the "fishingest," either. But to employ a rather overused saying, they ain't too shabby in either of those pastimes.According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, West Virginians are among the United States' most enthusiastic hunters, and they rank well above surrounding states in both hunting and fishing participation.Every four years, Fish and Wildlife Service researchers survey hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers to see how many are active in their respective pastimes. Agency officials released the most recent results a week and a half ago, and Ol' Wild and Wonderful made a pretty good showing.West Virginia had the 12th-highest percentage of residents who hunt. According to the survey, 13 percent of all Mountain State residents said they participate in one form of hunting or another.In case you're wondering, South Dakota enjoyed the highest participation rate, at 20 percent. Alaska finished close behind in the runner-up spot, followed by Mississippi, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, Maine and Vermont.West Virginia's percentage of hunters far, far outstrips the national average, which came in a little north of 5 percent.None of the five states that border West Virginia came close to matching its percentage of hunters. Kentucky came closest at 9 percent, followed by Pennsylvania at 7 percent, Ohio at 6 percent, Virginia at 5 percent and Maryland at 2 percent.
The lowest hunting rates came from states you'd expect to have them. Florida, New Jersey, California and Massachusetts - urban states with large human populations - all came in at less than 2 percent.West Virginia didn't fare nearly as well where fishing was concerned. The Mountain State's 15-percent participation rate ranked 23rd, slightly better than the nationwide rate of 13 percent.It should surprise no one that Alaska finished first. An astounding 40 percent of the people who live in the Land of the Midnight Sun identify themselves as anglers. Wow.Minnesota, Mississippi, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Idaho and Louisiana all had participation rates greater than 20 percent.Compared to surrounding states, though, West Virginia comes out on top. Ohio's participation rate of 14 percent came close to the Mountain State, and Kentucky finished right behind Ohio at 13 percent. From there, though, the rate drops all the way down to Virginia's 11 percent, Pennsylvania's 9 percent and Maryland's 8 percent.Think about those numbers a little bit.West Virginia is a landlocked state with zillions of little creeks and a few large rivers, but only one natural lake - and that lake, Trout Pond in Hardy County, is only 1 acre in size. Even the Mountain State's largest artificial reservoir, 2,700-acre Summersville Lake, is relatively small by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards.
Now consider that Ohio has Lake Erie; Pennsylvania has Lake Erie and world-class trout fishing; Kentucky has Kentucky, Barkley and Cumberland lakes plus several other large reservoirs; Maryland has the Chesapeake Bay; and Virginia has the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and some enormous impoundments.Despite having much less water and few fisheries as highly regarded as those of neighboring states, West Virginians still maintain a higher fishing participation rate. That, if you ask me, is pretty darned impressive.