The folks who manage West Virginia’s deer clearly weren’t concerned about sharp drops in 2019’s buck and antlerless-deer kills.
Division of Natural Resources biologists proposed very few changes to the state’s bag limits for antlerless deer, the instrument by which they control the whitetail population.
In past years, after significant declines — particularly in the buck kill, which biologists consider an index to deer population size — agency officials usually proposed conservative antlerless-deer regulations that would allow the whitetail herd to expand.
That didn’t really happen this year. Instead, the DNR stood pat.
Following are all the bag-limit changes biologists proposed:
Three counties, or parts thereof, would have more conservative regulations. In northern Kanawha, Mason and Wirt counties, the antlerless-deer bag limit would drop from three to one.
Three counties, or parts thereof, would have more liberal regulations. Pocahontas County, which is open to antlerless-deer hunting by lottery-drawn permit only, would have the number of permits increased from 300 to 400. Southern Lincoln County would go from a lottery-draw area to an unlimited-permit area with a one-deer bag limit. So would western Mineral County.
That’s it. Regulations in all other counties would remain the same as they were last year.
Clearly, DNR biologists don’t believe what many hunters seem to believe — that whitetail numbers are in serious decline. The buck- and antlerless-harvest numbers would seem to dispute that, but agency biologists aren’t buying it.
They believe four factors — weather, mast conditions, disease, and the buck season’s late opening date — combined to depress the buck and antlerless-deer harvests. The buck kill came in 21 percent below the five-year average, and the antlerless kill came in 16 percent below.
Of those, they believe the late opener had the greatest influence. Gary Foster, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, told members of the state Natural Resources Commission that the season came in on Nov. 25, the latest day on the calendar it possibly could. That, he said, placed it well after the peak of the whitetail rut.
“That meant buck-season hunters were at a disadvantage,” he said. “They weren’t able to take advantage of much rutting activity.”
Bowhunters, on the other hand, had what amounted to an extra week of peak-rut hunting. The archery harvest came in higher than usual, 4 percent above the 5-year average. So did the muzzleloader harvest.
Based on those statistics, and on the agency’s own preseason spotlight surveys, biologists concluded that the deer herd was on considerably more solid ground than the buck or antlerless kills seemed to indicate.
On the other hand, when proposing this year’s bear season lengths and bag limits, wildlife officials didn’t need to worry about dealing with dissatisfied hunters.
The 2019 bear kill went down as the third highest on record. Biologists could be expected to recommend liberal bear-hunting regulations, and they did.
If the commission adopts the DNR’s proposal, 51 counties will have slightly more liberal seasons for hunting without dogs. The only move toward a more conservative regulation was prohibit hunting with dogs in western Preston County.