If hunters are expecting much change in this year’s October firearm season for antlerless deer, they’re probably going to be disappointed.
State wildlife officials say not much will be different. The season will be four days long, same as last year. Roughly the same number of counties will be open. Mast conditions are pretty similar.
“If we get good weather, we should have a pretty good harvest,” said Gary Foster, game management supervisor for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
“This particular season seems to be more weather-dependent than other antlerless-deer season segments. It’s only four days long, and if we get weather that’s rainy or too warm, hunter turnout usually suffers.”
Since the October season debuted in 2012, harvest numbers have swung significantly from year to year, often because of weather: 3,256 in 2012; 8,557 in 2013; 6,974 in 2014; 5,373 in 2015; 3,801 in 2016; 2,947 in 2017; and 3,201 last year.
Foster said the public doesn’t appear to feel an urgent need to hunt antlerless deer in October.
“There are plenty of opportunities later, in November and in December,” he said. “So, if conditions aren’t just right, a lot of people just wait.”
By “just right,” Foster means crisp fall weather with little to no rain.
“If it’s cool and nice, people will hunt and we’ll get a pretty good harvest,” he said.
Mast conditions shouldn’t be much of a factor. Foster said this year’s acorn crop is down only slightly from last year’s, and is similar to the long-term average.
“I don’t think oak mast will have an effect, negative or positive,” he continued.
A late-summer outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease could affect deer numbers in a few parts of the state, but Foster doesn’t expect it to affect the harvest much, if at all.
“Typically, the effects of EHD are small and localized,” he said. “There’s no indication this year will be different.”
Some hunters have expressed concern about eating deer that might have been affected by EHD. Foster said there’s no need to worry.
“EHD doesn’t transmit to humans,” he said. “There’s no human health concern at all.”
Hunters should not confuse EHD with chronic wasting disease, or CWD. EHD is a hemorrhagic fever that kills some, but not all, deer it infects. CWD is a brain disease that is always fatal to the deer it infects.
So far, deer with CWD have been found only in the state’s Eastern Panhandle. Scientists have found no confirmed link between CWD in deer and similar fatal brain diseases in humans, but DNR officials urge hunters to avoid consuming meat from animals that appear ill.
The overall structure of this year’s October antlerless-deer season will be the same as last year’s — a four-day hunt that begins on a Thursday and ends on a Sunday. Hunting will be restricted to private land only. All counties where antlerless-deer hunting is legal will participate in the season.
Bag limits vary from county to county. Hunters should make sure to check this year’s antlerless-deer regulations to see which bag limits apply to the counties they plan to hunt. Some counties with marginal deer populations drop off the antlerless-deer list from time to time, and others get added.
Also, hunters in the counties where whitetail numbers are significantly above the DNR’s management objectives are required to take an antlerless deer before they’re allowed to kill a second buck. That list, too, changes from year to year.
Online copies of this year’s hunting regulations booklet can be downloaded from the DNR’s website, www.wvdnr.gov.