West Virginia’s state parks have hosted deer hunts before, but not like the ones they’re planning to host this fall.
Twenty-one three-day managed hunts will take place in 10 parks — a sharp break from recent years, when single-day hunts were held in only one or two parks. Sam England, chief of the state’s Parks Section, said the main goal of conducting so many hunts is to protect the parks from the deer.
“All of these parks have an overabundance of deer,” he explained. “That causes environmental problems. Deer browse or graze on native plant species and leave non-native species alone. The non-native species then proliferate, and the native species never get a chance to come back.”
England said he observed that personally when he was the superintendent at Stonewall Jackson State Park.
“After three years of managed hunts at Stonewall, we finally reduced the deer population to a point where we started seeing grapevine sprouts, tree sprouts, and flowers such as trilliums and pepperwort coming up again,” he added.
This fall’s hunts will take place at Beech Fork, Cacapon, Canaan Valley, Chief Logan, Lost River, North Bend, Pipestem, Stonewall, Twin Falls and Watoga state parks. Each park will host at least a pair of three-day hunts. North Bend, which has a higher deer density than the other parks, will host three.
All of the hunts will take place between Oct. 29 and Nov. 17, during the peak of the whitetail mating season. England said holding the hunts during that time period, when deer are on the move and less wary than usual, should give hunters plenty of incentive to participate.
“We want to increase the efficiency of these hunts,” he said. “So we’re trying to hold them at time when hunters will be most interested in participating. The other thing we’re planning to do is to charge nominal application fees for the permits so hunters will be more committed to the hunts.”
Parks officials previously didn’t charge application fees. Permits were free; hunters who applied had their names drawn in a lottery to see which of them would get to participate.
According to England, that system had a serious drawback.
“It wasn’t unusual to have only one-half to two-thirds of the hunters show up,” he said. “When that happened, we only got one-half to two-thirds as many deer killed as there would have been with a full complement of hunters. When you look at the effort and labor it took to put on those hunts, the low participation rate made them pretty inefficient.”
England believes the application fees will make sure hunters have some skin in the game.
“We believe the application fees will help people who want to try these hunts to be more committed to them,” he said.
Parks officials haven’t yet established what the fees will be, but England said hunters “should find them really reasonable.”
At most parks, the first hunt held will be archery/crossbow-only. The second will be a muzzleloader season held the following weekend.
“We wanted to create something that would be popular with muzzleloader hunters,” England said. “Being able to hunt during the rut is something muzzleloader hunters have wanted for a long time.”
Three parks will not follow the archery-muzzleoader formula. At North Bend, the first two weekends will be archery/crossbow-only and the third will be for muzzleloaders. Chief Logan and Twin Falls are located in counties where firearm hunting for deer is illegal, so each of those parks will host two separate archery hunts open to longbows, recurve bows and compound bows. Only hunters with Class Y handicap permits will be allowed to use crossbows at Chief Logan and Twin Falls.
Most of the hunting at all of the parks will be for antlerless deer, but England said some hunters will get opportunities to take bucks.
“There will be two types of harvest,” he continued. “In parks with two-deer limits, it will be ‘one-and-one’ — kill a doe and earn a chance to harvest a buck. In parks with one-deer limits, we’ll do lottery draws in the morning for opportunities at bucks.”
All of the hunts will be held on parks that have lodges or cabins. England hopes hunters choose to take advantage of the facilities and decide to stay there.
“We’d like to build camaraderie among the hunters, make these hunts popular,” he said. “At parks with restaurants, we’re even looking at opening them early and having breakfast buffets for the hunters. When it’s all said and done, I think the public will be positive about this. I think folks are going to enjoy themselves.”