After the gifts are opened and the turkey has been eaten, the hunting can begin.
During the six days after Christmas Day, West Virginians will fan out over the state’s mountains, each hoping to put more venison in the freezer before winter closes in for good.
They’ll be taking advantage of the state’s “family seasons,” a phrase coined by former Division of Natural Resources director Ed Hamrick.
“It’s a very descriptive term,” said DNR wildlife chief Paul Johansen.
“These antlerless-deer seasons fit in nicely with our holiday traditions. A lot of hunters come back to the state at that time to spend time with their families. These seasons give them opportunities to spend some of that time hunting.”
The first of the two seasons, scheduled for Dec. 26-27, is open to youths, hunters with handicaps and holders of senior lifetime licenses.
Young people ages 8 to 17 qualify for the two-day hunt. Participants between the ages of 8 and 14 must be accompanied by an unarmed, properly licensed adult to act as an adviser. Youths age 15 to 17 may hunt alone, but must have valid hunting licenses and antlerless-deer permits.
Senior hunters need to have purchased Class XS “lifetime” senior hunting licenses, and handicapped hunters who choose to participate must have Class Q licenses issued by the DNR.
Seniors and youths do not have to purchase Class N antlerless-deer stamps in order to hunt during the two-day season.
All 51 counties having a firearm season for deer will be open during the youth/handicap/senior hunt. The only closed counties will be Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming.
Any properly licensed hunter is eligible to take part in the second family season, which will run Dec. 28-31.
During that four-day stretch, antlerless-deer hunting will be allowed on private and public lands in all West Virginia counties having antlerless seasons. The number of counties varies from year to year, and Johansen recommended hunters check the state’s hunting-regulations pamphlet to see which counties are open.
All hunters who participate in the four-day hunt must have purchased Class N antlerless-deer stamps for their hunting licenses. Resident landowners and their children or parents, hunting on their own lands, may hunt without licenses or stamps.
Historically, the family seasons have accounted for roughly 10 percent of the state’s annual antlerless-deer kill.
“That’s important, because antlerless-deer hunting is what allows [DNR officials] to control the size of our deer population,” Johansen said.
“Harvesting female deer is, by far, the most efficient way to control herd size. These late seasons help us to meet our management objectives.”
So far this fall, hunters haven’t killed as many deer, antlered or antlerless, as DNR officials expected. Johansen attributed the shortfall to three things: acorns, disease and weather.
Red oak acorns were especially abundant in early fall. Their presence not only scattered deer widely throughout the countryside, but also made deer less likely to visit the corn piles many deer hunters use to bait their prey within shooting range.
If that weren’t enough, a late-summer outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed substantial numbers of deer in localized pockets from Marion County in the north to Summers County in the south.
Weather often curbs hunter success, and Johansen said the deer seasons so far this year have suffered that fate.
“The first two days of the buck season were pretty good, but the weather turned bad after that and has been pretty consistently bad ever since,” he said.
“The weather between Christmas and New Year’s can be really bad for hunting, or it can be really good. If it’s cold and wet, it will be bad. But if we get a light cover of snow that doesn’t prevent hunters from moving about, with low winds and clear skies, I would expect hunters to do very well.”