CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sometimes it pays off to poke around in dusty old archives.Earlier this week, while browsing the Internet for some information about hunters, I ran across a survey focused specifically on West Virginia's hunters.Officials from the state Division of Natural Resources commissioned the survey, and Responsive Management Inc. of Harrisonburg, Va., completed it in 2011. The results, compiled in a 167-page report filled with graphs and tables, provide detailed glimpses at where resident hunters live and the species they prefer to hunt.For example, researchers found that 188,395 West Virginians identify themselves as hunters. That's 13 percent of the population, which doesn't sound like much but actually is; the average for the rest of the country is just 6 percent.What do we like to hunt? Deer, mostly, followed by small game, spring gobblers and fall turkeys.Here's how the numbers break out. An estimated 178,960 state residents age 15 and over hunt for deer during at least one of the four principal whitetail seasons. So in essence, almost every West Virginian who identifies as a hunter also identifies as a deer hunter.Small-game seasons (squirrel, rabbit, grouse, etc.) attract about half as many hunters as do the deer seasons. An estimated 90,510 West Virginians hunt for small game.The numbers fall off fairly sharply after that. Some 59,769 state residents say they hunt for spring gobblers; 33,210 hunt during the fall turkey season; 19,242 hunt for bears; 3,667 hunt for waterfowl; and 1,514 hunt for wild boar.
The highest percentages of hunters are found in rural counties. In Calhoun County, for example, a whopping 37 percent of respondents said they hunted. Wirt County came close behind at 36 percent, followed by Webster at 32 and Tucker at 31.Other high finishers included Roane, 29 percent; Ritchie, 28 percent; Braxton, 27 percent; Lewis, 26 percent; Pocahontas, 25 percent; and Hardy, Lincoln and Mason, 24 percent.Counties with the lowest percentages of hunters included Hancock, Ohio and Mingo at just 4 percent each; Cabell, 6 percent; Jefferson, 7 percent; and Kanawha and McDowell at 8 percent each.The survey also broke out each county's percentages by the species they hunt.Calhoun County boasts the highest percentage of deer hunters. Thirty-seven percent of the county's respondents said they pursue whitetails. The next-highest percentage, 32, came from Webster County. Other top finishers were Wirt, 29 percent; Ritchie, 27 percent; Lewis and Doddridge, 26 percent; and Randolph and Tucker, 25 percent.The lowest percentages of deer hunters were found in Hancock County, 2 percent; Ohio County, 3 percent; Mingo County, 4 percent; and Kanawha and Cabell counties, 5 percent.Among respondents who identified themselves as hunters, the percentage that hunted for deer ran close to 100 percent regardless which county they lived in. High percentages of spring gobbler hunters showed up in Summers County, 60 percent; Nicholas, 57 percent; Monongalia, 55 percent; Mineral, 54 percent; and Cabell, 53 percent.
Interestingly, the highest percentage of bear hunters, 40 percent, showed up in Wyoming County, one of the state's non-traditional bear-hunting counties. Other high percentages were found in Pocahontas, 33 percent; and Pendleton and Gilmer, 25 percent.Researchers found the highest concentration of fall turkey hunters in Nicholas County, where 43 percent of hunters participated in the autumn season. Other top fall turkey counties included Grant and Morgan, 40 percent; Monongalia, 38; Harrison, 35; and Pocahontas and Marion, 33.