West Virginia’s deer hunters seem to enjoy tradition.
With that in mind, state wildlife officials created the Mountaineer Heritage season, open only to hunters willing to use primitive weapons — flintlock firearms, sidelock firearms, longbows or recurve bows.
The first such season was held last January. Gary Foster, the Division of Natural Resources’ assistant chief in charge of game management, said hunters appeared to enjoy it.
“It was new, and a bit unknown,” he added. “But we got a lot of positive feedback from the hunters who participated in it.”
DNR officials say it usually takes hunters a couple of years to fully embrace a new season and adjust their calendars to take part in it, but the Heritage season appeared to have a ready-made group of participants.
For years, black-powder enthusiasts asked the DNR to implement a January muzzleloader season. In 2018, members of the state Natural Resources Commission voted to establish one.
To expand the number of potential participants, DNR officials asked the commission to allow traditional archers to participate alongside hunters who use traditional-style muzzleloaders. They also opened the season for bear hunting as well as deer hunting. Even so, they didn’t expect huge numbers of hunters to turn out.
“Primitive weapons aren’t for everybody, so the turnout will always be somewhat limited,” Foster said. “But there are those who like those things, and those are the folks who participate.”
Foster expected the first hunt to yield fewer than 1,000 deer, and he turned out to be right.
Hunters killed 659 whitetails — 636 with muzzleloaders and 23 with bows. Eighty-four of those were antlered bucks, 74 were button bucks, 480 were does, and 21 were mature bucks that had shed their antlers.
Their success during the upcoming season, scheduled for Jan. 9-12, will depend largely on weather conditions.
“In January, weather can make or break a season,” Foster said. “Last year, the weather was cold, but overall I think participation was pretty good. It’s a four-day season, though, and if the weather gets really bad, fewer hunters will turn out.”
The 2020 season will be slightly different from 2019’s. Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Commission voted to allow hunters to use sidelock or flintlock pistols as well as rifles.
“Last year, pistols weren’t permitted,” Foster said. “Really, that was just an oversight. Some hunters brought it up, and the commission approved the change and put it into effect for this season.”
Foster said DNR officials “aren’t anticipating any changes” for the 2021 Mountaineer Heritage hunt.
“We’ll hold our biologists’ meeting at the end of January,” he continued.
“That’s when our biologists suggest any changes that they think should be made to our big-game or small-game seasons. Something might come up then, but right now we aren’t anticipating any changes.”