West Virginia’s deer hunters couldn’t have asked for better conditions to open the 2018 buck firearm season.
The day dawned clear and cool, and deer appeared to be paying more attention to each other than they were to the 300,000 orange-clad people aiming rifles at them. Paul Johansen, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said good weather on opening day usually translates to a good buck kill.
“In Kanawha County, it looked like a super morning to be out deer hunting,” Johansen said. “It was cool, but not freezing cold. We had clear skies, but not a lot of wind.”
Johansen said DNR biologists in the state’s eastern mountains reported similar conditions.
“It was clear over there, too,” he continued. “Plus, there still were a couple of inches of snow on the ground from last week’s winter storm. Having a little bit of snow on the ground is a definite plus for hunters, because the deer are easier to see and to track. Hunters are telling our field personnel they were seeing plenty of deer movement.”
That much movement, he said, is a sign that whitetail mating activity is still going strong.
“You would expect that, though,” he said. “Nov. 19 is the earliest date it’s possible to open a season, and the [mating] season isn’t quite over by then.”
DNR officials have established the Monday before Thanksgiving as the traditional opening day. Because of calendar variations from year to year, the opener can come as early as Nov. 19 or as late as Nov. 25.
“This early, it makes sense that hunters are seeing a lot of movement,” Johansen said.
Many of the hunters who bagged bucks on Monday saw evidence of mating activity.
Eric Coleman of Dunbar, who killed a seven-pointer in the Tyler Mountain area of Kanawha County, put it simply: “They’re a-chasing,” he said. “The buck I got was chasing a doe.”
His hunting partner, Chuck Layden of Dunbar, can vouch for that. He bagged the doe Coleman’s buck was chasing. Both Coleman and Layden reported hearing “plenty of shots” before they got their deer.
“The shots were moving the deer around, for sure,” Layden said.
Jonathan Long of Liberty said he heard fewer shots than usual near his hunting spot in Putnam County, but said the eight-pointer he killed shortly after sunrise was “definitely chasing a doe.”
So was the big-bodied eight-pointer Brian Edwards killed on his parents’ farm in southern Kanawha County.
“I heard fewer shots than I expected to, especially with weather this good,” he said. “I saw a lot of deer, though, and the buck I got was chasing after a doe.”
Ten-year-old Abbi Torman of St. Albans got a buck, too, but not during the firearm season. She killed her 4-pointer late Sunday afternoon with a crossbow. She said she had seen three bucks and a doe earlier in the afternoon, but the buck she killed was by itself when she shot it.
Johansen said agency biologists in the eastern mountains “were and are continuing to be very busy” checking deer for chronic wasting disease, which has been detected in Hampshire, Hardy, Berkeley and Mineral counties.
“It’s good that they’re busy, because it means hunters are killing a fair amount of deer,” Johansen added.
According to the DNR’s electronic game-checking system, about 5,000 bucks and 1,000 antlerless deer had been checked in by 2:07 p.m. Both totals, which are considered preliminary and unofficial, appear to be down slightly from last year, when 5,500 bucks and 1,200 antlerless deer had been taken by 2:30 p.m.
Those numbers seem consistent with those Robert Haynes, an assistant at the S&J Meats deer-cutting facility near Cross Lanes, was seeing. Haynes said that by early afternoon, the number of deer being dropped off for processing appeared to lag slightly behind last year’s pace.
“It’s still early, though,” he added. “By dusk, we’ll be slammed. Most people wait until the day is just about over before they bring their deer to us.”
Haynes’ prediction appeared spot-on. Less than two hours later, shortly before the DNR offices closed for the day, the statewide buck total stood at 6,100, and the antlerless-deer total at 1,200.