West Virginians who didn’t fully scratch their big-game hunting itch during the fall will have one final chance to do so.
The Mountaineer Heritage Season, as it’s called, is a four-day deer- and bear-hunting season for people who use primitive weapons — longbows, recurve bows, flintlock muzzleloaders and sidelock muzzleloaders.
This year’s season is scheduled for Jan. 14-17. If it turns out like last year’s, hunters will probably bag 600 to 700 deer and no bears.
Gary Foster, deputy wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said he expects this year’s ratio of archery kills to black-powder kills to be similar to last year’s, when archers killed 29 whitetails and muzzleloader enthusiasts bagged 570.
“That’s pretty typical,” Foster said. “We don’t get many archery kills because modern compound bows aren’t allowed during the Mountaineer Heritage Season. Not many people hunt with recurves and longbows anymore.
“On the other hand, a fair number of people still hunt with traditional muzzleloaders, and we anticipate that the majority of the harvest will come from them.”
The size of the harvest, Foster added, will probably hinge on the always-unpredictable January weather.
“Definitely, in a January season, weather can have a big influence on hunter participation,” he said. “And in a short, four-day season like this one — which opens on a Thursday and ends on a Sunday — the weather on the weekend, particularly Saturday, will be a major factor.”
If the weather holds up, Foster expects what he calls “a decent harvest,” probably a little larger than last year’s.
“There are definitely plenty of deer around the state,” he said. “If we have really good weather, the numbers should bounce up a bit.”
The season is open statewide, but hunters should be aware that hunting deer with firearms in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties is illegal. Only longbows or recurve bows may be used in those counties.
Hunters may take antlered bucks as well as antlerless deer, provided they have taken only two or fewer deer during the regular season. In Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties, hunters may take a buck only if they didn’t kill one during the regular season.
In the 51 counties where muzzleloaders are allowed, all hunters — archery and muzzleloader — must wear an outer garment that displays at least 400 square inches of fluorescent orange fabric.
Foster said the chances of any hunter bagging a bear are pretty slim.
“The majority of bears are hibernating in their dens by now,” he said. “When we created the season, we anticipated that only a handful of bears would be taken.”
In fact, he added, it would take a special set of circumstances for bears to be available to hunters in mid-January.
“If we had a year with really good mast production and really mild weather in the weeks leading up to the season, a few bears might still be out of their dens, taking advantage of the abundance of food,” he explained.
“We had a pretty good red/black oak acorn crop this year, but mast production as a whole was pretty poor. We also had a big snow and some pretty cold weather in December, so I wouldn’t anticipate any bears being available to hunters during this year’s Heritage Season.”