All in all, wildlife officials believe West Virginia’s hunters enjoyed a pretty good firearm season for buck deer.
During the 13-day hunt, which ended Dec. 1, hunters killed 44,572 bucks, a 1 percent increase from the previous year’s total. Paul Johansen, the Division of Natural Resources’ wildlife chief, said he was pleased with the harvest, but acknowledged that better weather would have boosted the total a bit.
“The first day of the season, the weather was rather decent,” he said. “But then on the second day, we had some pretty nasty weather roll in.”
Historically, the first three days of the buck season account for nearly half the total kill. Bad weather during any of those three days depresses the kill.
“The overall harvest came in slightly higher than the previous year’s, which is what our biologists predicted,” Johansen said. “Personally, I think this was a pretty good season. I heard good reports from hunters and from our people out in the field.”
Johansen said weather wasn’t the only factor that played into the buck harvest’s size.
“This year’s [Nov. 19] opening day was the earliest it could possibly be, based on the calendar,” he explained. “That placed opening day earlier in the [whitetail mating season] than it ordinarily is. That might have played a positive role in the harvest size, because bucks were more preoccupied with chasing does than they were with hunters.”
He said mating activity might also have played a negative role, albeit a small one.
“Having so many bucks on the move might have encouraged hunters to pass up on smaller-antlered bucks in the hope of getting a bigger one,” he said. “If the bigger one never came along, those hunters might have gone home empty-handed.”
Johansen said he isn’t sure how acorn production might have affected the season. When acorns are scarce, hunters usually enjoy greater success. When acorns are especially abundant, deer movements become harder to predict and hunter success suffers.
“This year, we had a mixed bag,” Johansen said. “White oak acorns were very abundant in some parts of the state, but in areas of the state where we don’t have much white oak, other oak species didn’t do very well at all. The overall harvest varied pretty significantly from one [DNR management] district to another.
“Some were up from last year, some were about the same, and others were down. It will be interesting to dig down through the data to see why those figures came in the way they did.”
Another potential factor, Johansen said, was a 2017 outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease that killed deer in 24 of the state’s 55 counties.
“The effects of the outbreak were confined to relatively small areas, but there’s a chance it could have affected deer populations enough to influence the size of the harvest,” he added.
One final factor might or might not have influenced the size of the buck kill, but Johansen considers it important for another reason.
“This year was the first time Sunday hunting was legal on public lands as well as private,” he noted. “That certainly was positive, because it provided hunters with an extra day of recreation.”
This year’s top 10 counties for buck production were Randolph with 1,685; Preston, 1,607; Greenbrier, 1,479; Hampshire, 1,471; Jackson, 1,379; Pendleton, 1,274; Grant, 1,217; Hardy, 1,212; Kanawha, 1,212 and Mason, 1,206.