West Virginia’s October firearm season for antlerless deer has had its ups and downs.
The three-day hunt, begun in 2012, was designed to accomplish two goals — to provide easier hunting for young people and senior citizens, and to compress the annual spring fawning season by shortening the previous fall’s whitetail rut.
Has it worked? The jury is still out. Sometimes the hunters turn out, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they kill a fair number of deer, sometimes they don’t.
Last year, sportsmen bagged just 2,330 deer, the lowest total yet. Biologists had hoped for a harvest in the 6,000-to-7,000 range.
Even in the season’s first year, when hunters were still unfamiliar with its presence on the fall hunting calendar, the kill came in at 3,526. The total rose sharply, to 8,557, in 2013. In 2014 it dropped to 6,974. In 2015 it dropped again, to 5,373.
Division of Natural Resources officials blamed last year’s dismal harvest on the weather. Temperatures in the 80s kept hunters home on the season’s opening day, rain kept them out of the woods on the second day, and snow drove them away on the third day.
Jim Crum, the DNR’s deer project leader, said short seasons often fall victim to weather.
“If the weather is nice and it’s cool outside, people get out and participate,” he explained. “If it’s hot and dry, or if it’s raining or snowing, they tend not to participate.”
Crum added, however, that weather isn’t the only dynamic affecting the October season.
“I think a lot of it depends on landowners’ feelings about the deer populations on their lands,” he said. “Private-land hunters drive [the October antlerless harvest]. If landowners don’t feel that they or others should be shooting deer on their property, they don’t participate.”
He wishes that weren’t the case.
“I hope people realize you have to harvest deer to have deer,” he said. “You don’t want nature to take care of [overpopulation problems] with diseases or with winterkill.”
When large numbers of hunters don’t participate, the resulting harvests are too low to accomplish one of the season’s goals, which is to shorten the rut and compress the following spring’s fawning season.
DNR officials believe taking females out of the population in October will cause allow rutting bucks to finish their breeding more quickly during the November mating season. The shortened breeding season, biologists say, should result in a shorter “fawn drop,” which reduces predation on fawns by coyotes and bears.
Crum said he wishes hunters were more willing to take part in the October season.
“I think it’s a great hunting opportunity, especially for young people and for seniors who don’t want to hunt during the December [parts of the] antlerless season,” he added. “The weather is usually a whole lot better in October than it is in December.
“Also, landowners should take every opportunity they can get to manage their deer herds, and the only way to manage them is to harvest females. A good way they can do that is to take the number of deer you think is appropriate for their property, and then take an extra one. Most people don’t realize how many deer they have on their land.”
This year’s October segment of the antlerless-deer season begins on Oct. 26 and ends on Oct. 28.