CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Without hunting or natural predators to thin their numbers, deer can breed themselves straight into starvation.
That's why controlled whitetail hunts are so commonplace in cities, housing developments, state parks and other erstwhile no-hunting zones throughout West Virginia.
When deer herds reach densities of 60 to 100 animals per square mile or more, they can browse away almost all the new growth in a given area of forest. Visit a place with too many deer and chances are you'll see a "browse line" about 4 feet off the ground - green above the line and bare underneath it.
Before officials at Wood County's Blennerhassett Island State Park started conducting controlled, limited-access deer hunts, biologists conducted a highly accurate census and counted 557 whitetails on the 450-acre island. That's equivalent to 792 deer per square mile.
Controlled hunts have kept the population from getting that high again. The success of the Blennerhassett hunts encouraged parks officials to hold similar hunts at Stonewall Resort State Park in Lewis County.
This fall, they'll do it again. Division of Natural Resources officials have begun accepting applications for a Blennerhassett hunt, scheduled for Nov. 12 and 14, and a Stonewall hunt Nov. 18-20. A third hunt, at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Pocahontas County, will be held Oct. 18-19.
All three hunts allow hunting with archery equipment or with firearms. Applicants must specify on their application which method they wish to use. Center-fire rifles aren't allowed at the observatory hunt, but muzzleloaders and slug-firing shotguns are OK.
The state park hunts allow joint applications by up to two people. The observatory hunt allows parties of up to four people.
One unusual aspect of the observatory hunt is that participants are not allowed to use two-way radios. The observatory is located at the center of a federally designated "radio quiet" zone.
All hunters at Blennerhassett must hunt from tree stands elevated at least 8 feet off the ground. Hunters at Stonewall must choose to hunt from tree stands or ground blinds, or be assigned to the park's "free roaming" area. Hunters at the observatory will be sent to zones designated for archery equipment, muzzleloaders or shotguns.
As is the case with all controlled hunts, the focus will be on killing antlerless deer. On each morning of all the hunts, however, DNR officials will conduct on-site lotteries that will allow a few hunters (four at Stonewall and five at Blennerhassett and the observatory) to take either bucks or does.
All of the deer killed in the controlled hunts are considered "bonus deer," and will not count against hunters' yearly bag limits.
Permits to participate in the controlled hunts are free, but all applicants must have valid West Virginia hunting licenses or must be legally exempt.
Applications are available online at www.wvdnr.gov
under the "Hunting" heading and the "Controlled Hunts" subheading; or at DNR district offices, the DNR Elkins Operations Center, the DNR main headquarters in South Charleston, West Virginia state park and state forest offices; and at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek.
Completed applications for the observatory hunt should be mailed to the NRAO, P.O. Box 2, Green Bank WV, 24944; and must be received on or before Aug. 2.
Applications for the state park hunts should be mailed to the DNR, P.O. Box 67, Elkins WV, 26241, and must be received on or before Aug. 19.