West Virginia’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory has a deer problem. Specifically, it has too many of them.
So, every fall since 1993, officials at the 2,700-acre Pocahontas County facility have held a special two-day deer hunt on the observatory grounds. They’ll do it again this year; in fact, they’ve started accepting applications for the 200 permits they plan to issue.
Which raises a question: Just how popular are the state’s high-profile, limited-participation “special” whitetail hunts?
Pretty darned popular, wildlife officials say.
“Last year, there were 500 applications for those 200 permits,” said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “It has been running like that for years. I would consider that an indication of popularity.”
Johansen said periodic hunts on two of the state’s most deer-rich state parks have been equally popular. Since 2007, four hunts have been held at Wood County’s Blennerhassett Island State Park and three have been held at Lewis County’s Stonewall Resort.
The Blennerhassett hunts, held in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013, attracted an average of 699 applicants for an average of 114 permits. Stonewall’s hunts, held in 2009, 2010 and 2013, drew an average of 830 applicants for an average of 146 permits. Both areas averaged roughly six applicants for each permit issued.
“The opportunity to hunt on these areas generates excitement, and that’s good when you’re trying to manage a resource like deer,” Johansen said.
The idea behind all controlled hunts is simple — to control deer populations. Before DNR Parks Section and Wildlife Section officials began allowing the Blennerhassett hunts, biologists counted 553 whitetails on the 450-acre island, an astonishing average of 736 per square mile. Statewide, wildlife officials try to limit deer populations to about 30 per square mile.
Deer that inhabit areas where hunting is prohibited tend to overpopulate. Government compounds with restricted access are particularly prone to the phenomenon. So are woodland parks.
Wildlife officials believe the fastest and most efficient way to reduce whitetail populations is to kill female deer, so sometimes closed areas get opened to hunters. To keep the hunts from becoming land-rush free-for-alls, they’re often controlled through the issue of lottery-drawn, limited-number permits.
Even so, controlled hunts require lots of manpower — people to guide hunters to assigned areas, people to check and tag the deer, people to provide transportation, etc. Johansen said that even when personnel costs are factored in, the hunts are worthwhile.
“They’re labor-intensive, but they’re also important,” he said. “These places are managed to maintain cultural and natural resources. Too many deer can have an undesired effect on those resources, so without question the hunts are worth the effort put into them.”