CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Monday, West Virginians who hunt deer with muzzleloaders will break with tradition.Instead of starting their season in mid-December, they'll start just after the beginning of the month. State wildlife officials pushed for the earlier season, and earlier this year the Natural Resources Commission approved it."Essentially what we've done is to move the muzzleloader season into the week when the traditional antlerless-deer season took place," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources."It was something we wanted to do - a direct result of the modifications we recommended after we adopted our new deer management plan. Our thought was to provide muzzleloader enthusiasts some hunting days when the weather perhaps might be a little better."A common knock on past antlerless seasons was that mid-December weather was bitterly cold and snowy more often than not."Hunters, especially elderly hunters, probably felt a lot less like hunting when the air temperature was down around 20 degrees and snow was blowing sideways," Johansen said. "With the new season framework, there's a good chance temperatures will be somewhat more moderate."The new season will last six days, same as previous seasons. But even though the season won't last any longer, DNR officials expect more deer to be killed."We are anticipating a slightly better harvest," Johansen said. "In this year's Mast Report and Hunting Outlook, our biologists predicted that the antlerless kill would be similar to last year's, but probably a little higher."
Last year, blackpowder enthusiasts bagged 7,873 whitetails. Johansen expects this year's harvest to come in a few hundred higher."The simple act of moving the season up a week won't ... affect the harvest, but the weather - if it's better - certainly should," he said. "This is a relatively minor change, but I think it might have significant benefits for those who enjoy muzzleloader hunting."Other than the opening and closing dates, the new muzzleloader season will follow the same rules it always has.All but four of the state's counties will be open to hunting. In the four closed counties - Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming - deer are off-limits to any kind of firearm hunting, muzzleloaders included.In counties with open antlerless-deer seasons, muzzleloader hunters can kill antlerless deer as well as antlered bucks. In counties with closed antlerless seasons, only bucks are legal.Any muzzleloading rifle of .38 caliber or larger can be used. Telescopic sights are allowed, too.As in all firearm seasons for deer, hunters must wear at least 400 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing.
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