When hunters head afield Monday for the state’s firearm season for antlered buck deer, some of them will come home with antlerless deer.
That’s because West Virginia allows buck hunters on private lands to take a doe if they so desire. If history is any indication, about 20,000 of them will.
Division of Natural Resources officials call it “concurrent hunting.” Begun in 2002, the antlered-antlerless option in its current form has, over time, reached a level of acceptance among hunters.
It wasn’t always that way. When DNR biologists first proposed the antlered-antlerless option for the entire 12-day duration of the buck season, hunters objected. They believed too many does would be killed, and that the whitetail population would suffer irreparable damage.
Jim Crum, the DNR’s deer project leader, said some people in the agency had the same concern.
“I think we’ve gotten over that of late,” he said. “Our [deer-management] plan gives us the ability to adjust the regulations from year to year in individual counties or parts of counties. By adjusting the regulations, we can encourage hunters to kill more deer in counties where we have too many and encourage them to kill fewer in counties where we don’t have enough.”
DNR officials also worried that the buck-doe option might disrupt the traditional nature of the state’s buck season.
“Actually, I think it has added to it,” Crum said. “Let’s face it, a lot of native West Virginians now live out of state. They come back for Thanksgiving week, and part of their reason for doing that is to go deer hunting. If we didn’t give them the opportunity during those few days of the year, chances are they won’t kill an antlerless deer.”
Last year, hunters killed 34,972 does and button bucks during all five segments of the state’s firearm seasons for antlerless deer. Crum said roughly half of that total came during the buck season. He expects a similar kill this year.
“As far as the potential to kill an antlerless deer is concerned, hunting opportunities this year have increased somewhat from last year,” he added. “Fifty-one of 55 counties, or portions thereof, have antlerless seasons. Also, with Sunday hunting now legal statewide, there’s another weekend day added to the season.”
Those are the positive factors. Crum said there are some potential negative influences, too.
“We have an awfully good mast crop this year, and that is making deer harder to pattern,” he explained. “I think that will have an impact on the overall [antlerless] kill.
Crum said he expects the recent outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease to have at least some effect on the season, but only in isolated areas.
“I don’t think we had nearly the number of mortalities Kentucky did. But in some places, there was enough mortality to make an impact,” he added. “Where that has happened in the past, the deer population usually rebounds within two to three years.”
Weather, Crum said, is the other variable.
"If we have good weather, especially on the first three days of the season and on the weekends, we’ll have a better harvest," he said. "We need ‘Goldilocks’ weather — not too cold, not too hot; not too wet, not too dry; and a little bit of snow would be good, but not too much."