Most of West Virginia’s 2020 deer-hunting seasons have ended, but four opportunities to bring home venison remain.
The six-day muzzleloader season ends Sunday. The archery season, open since Sept. 26, ends on Dec. 31. Two other seasons, both firearm hunts for antlerless whitetails, will be shoehorned into the days between Christmas and New Year’s.
The first, open only to youths, seniors and handicapped hunters, will open on Dec. 26 and end on Dec. 27. The second, open to everyone, will open on Dec. 28 and will close on Dec. 31. Collectively, they’re known as the state’s “family” antlerless-deer seasons.
Former Division of Natural Resources director Ed Hamrick put that label on them when the agency implemented the first such hunts. Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief, said the term “captures perfectly” the spirit of the seasons’ intended purpose.
“A lot of people are at home with their families during that holiday week,” Johansen added. “What better way is there to celebrate the holidays than to get outdoors and enjoy some deer hunting with your family?”
With COVID-19 on everyone’s minds, Johansen said he believes whitetail hunting provides a sterling opportunity to spend time together while maintaining a safe social distance.
“You’re outside, you’re naturally distanced, and you’re taking advantage of what nature offers,” he said. “Gift returns can wait until you finish deer hunting.”
The youth-senior-handicapped hunt, he added, is perfectly timed for that.
“It falls right after Christmas,” he said. “In West Virginia, that’s when Santa gives a lot of young people their first deer rifle. What better thing could there be than to sight that rifle in and use it to take advantage of that two-day season.
“This year, it falls on a Saturday and a Sunday, so that provides an excellent opportunity for parents or grandparents to take those youngsters out hunting.”
Under West Virginia law, youth hunts are restricted to youngsters 8 to 18 years of age. Those in the 8-14 age range must be accompanied by a licensed adult. Those in the 15-18 age range must have their own licenses, and they may hunt by themselves if they want.
The season is also open to state residents who have purchased Class X-S (lifetime senior) licenses, and to hunters who have valid Class Q handicapped licenses.
The Dec. 28-31 hunt is open to any West Virginian who still has an unfilled Class N “doe stamp.” Four counties — Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming — are closed to firearm hunting.
“We always look at this late split in the antlerless season as a last chance to meet our antlerless-deer harvest objectives,” Johansen said.
“Harvesting female deer is how we control deer populations, and this late season often makes the difference in us reaching our goals. We expect this year to be no different from other years in that regard.”
Both of the “family seasons” are short, which means hunters might have to hunt under unpleasant weather conditions.
“West Virginia’s weather is very unpredictable in late December,” Johansen said. “If the weather is decent, though, I think hunters will be willing to get out there, stretch their legs a bit and put some more venison in their freezers.”