For a reporter, writing hunting-season outlook stories can be difficult, especially when there’s nothing new or unique about the season in question.
All those stories require the reporter to find answers to questions hunters might ask. The most basic ones are when the season starts and ends, and how good or bad the hunting is likely to be.
The first answer is cut and dried; the state Natural Resources Commission establishes the season dates months beforehand.
The second answer depends on several variables: wildlife population levels, hunter participation, mast conditions, weather and regulation changes that affect season lengths and bag limits.
Recently, as I worked on a couple of pre-season stories, it occurred to me that one of those variables becomes less relevant with each passing year:
I interviewed two Division of Natural Resources biologists, both of whom addressed mast conditions only in vague terms.
They and their fellow DNR biologists across the state had only recently finished their annual mast surveys, and the agency’s annual Mast Report and Hunting Outlook was still weeks from being written. Their own observations had been local in nature, and they didn’t want to make bold statewide predictions based on less-than-complete data. OK, fair enough.
The full report should come out sometime between now and the end of September. When it does, I’ll be happy to pass along its conclusions to you readers.
But will that information make much of a difference? The cynic in me says no.
West Virginia’s three most popular game animals are the white-tailed deer, the black bear and the wild turkey. In a perfect world, hunters who scouted the woods and found the most abundant mast sources would stand the best chance of bagging those animals.
It’s not a perfect world, though. In fact, it isn’t even a fair one, because so many hunters in West Virginia tilt the playing field by baiting their quarry into easy shooting range.
Mast crops come and go from year to year. Hickory nuts might “hit” one fall and be scarce the next. Same goes for acorns, beechnuts, walnuts, crabapples ... whatever. Such are the ways of nature.
The corn crop always hits. Such are the ways of humans.
Throughout the Mountain State, corn piles and mechanical feeders lure untold numbers of animals to feed on protein-poor, carbohydrate-rich grain put there for one purpose: To make sure those animals stay in place long enough for humans to put arrows or bullets in them.
Hunters’ success used to rely on woodsmanship, experience, and sometimes a little luck.
All too often nowadays, success depends on year-round baiting designed to keep wild animals fat and content until they can be killed. It’s sort of like a cattle feedlot, only with trees.
Hunting wildlife over bait is illegal in West Virginia for every species but deer. Long ago, the state’s lawmakers acquiesced to the wishes of lazy hunters and made it legal. It has since become a mini-industry, one that creates collateral damage.
How many bears and turkeys get killed over bait set out for deer? Dozens? Hundreds? It’s anyone’s guess, but it shouldn’t be.
Baiting for all wildlife species should be illegal. In most other states, it is. It’s time for West Virginia to improve its backward, shortsighted image and put an end to deer baiting once and for all.