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I can remember when West Virginia stocked its first wild boars.

It happened 49 years ago, in 1971. I was in high school at the time, but I remember because the stocking took place in the Spruce Laurel watershed along the Boone-Logan county border, only 5 miles from my hometown.

Division of Natural Resources officials decided to stock boars because the area didn’t have any other big-game animals at the time. Deer were scarce, bears almost nonexistent.

The stockings took hold quickly. The first boar-hunting season took place in 1979, and in 1992 the harvest topped 100 for the first time.

The fun didn’t last long.

The population fell sharply after 2000. In 2003, hunters killed only five boars.

Nick Huffman, the DNR’s assistant District 5 wildlife biologist, said things are much better now.

“For the past 10 to 15 years, our population has been increasing,” he explained. “We’re back to having some moderately good harvests.”

The kill rose to 137 in 2018, the highest total since 1997. It fell off to 88 last year, but Huffman said the upcoming season should be better.

“Like most game species, wild boar are dependent on available hard mast,” he added.

“Acorns, hickory nuts and beechnuts were pretty abundant last year, and that probably led to good reproduction last spring. There should be a lot of young-of-the-year hogs out there this fall.”

The first segment of West Virginia’s firearm season for boars begins Oct. 24 and ends Oct. 31. The second segment starts Feb. 5 and ends Feb. 7.

Hunting for wild boars is legal in four counties — Boone, Logan, Raleigh and Wyoming. Huffman said, however, that the hogs’ range has declined since its original expansion.

“Ninety-eight percent of the harvest comes from Boone and Logan counties, with an occasional boar being taken in Wyoming County,” he continued.

The epicenter of the species’ range still hovers near where the first 30 boars were stocked — near the head of Spruce Laurel Fork. Boars can still be found from the Wharton-Barrett area of Boone County westward to the Blair-Kelly area of Logan County and south toward Oceana in Wyoming County.

Most of the land in that region is owned by coal, timber or land-holding companies, and in years past hunters were given almost unfettered access to those properties.

Lately, though, land-leasing has complicated the picture.

“Some of the property has been leased out to hunting clubs,” Huffman said. “There are a couple of leases in the Cazy section of Spruce Laurel, and another in Pigeonroost Hollow near Blair. Still, there’s a lot of property available to hunt — just not as much as there was 20 years ago.”

He said the current access issues don’t appear to have dampened hunters’ enthusiasm for chasing after wild boar.

“There’s still a lot of interest,” he said. “A lot of the hunters are locals, but every year there’s an influx of hunters from outside the Boone- Logan area coming in to hunt.”

One interesting quirk of the upcoming season is that properly licensed hunters in Boone County will have an opportunity to hunt three big-game species at once. The four-day October antlerless-deer season will be underway, and so will a similar season for bears.

“A hunter who has a bear damage stamp and an antlerless permit for Boone County could hunt for all three species,” Huffman said. “I think that’s pretty neat.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow

@GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.