By Mannix Porterfield
West Virginia’s forested hills and valleys are bracing for the rites of autumn, and that means one thing to the hunters — a return to a long-standing tradition.
Cool, foggy mornings this week, accented by the occasional golden or brown leaf on the windshields of cars, likely invigorated hunters for the coming months.
First up is the squirrel hunt, opening Sept. 14 statewide.
“That is a tradition in West Virginia that seems to be the kickoff,” says Paul Johansen, deputy wildlife chief for the Division of Natural Resources. “It’s an exciting time for most of the hunters.”
Years ago, the squirrel season was delayed until October.
“This kind of warm September weather can be a real positive for folks interested in taking youngsters out,” Johansen said. “When you’ve got youngsters, you try to keep them as comfortable as you can, temperature-wise. You keep them occupied when they first get exposed to hunting, and calm, mild temperatures in September can really be a boost in that regard.”
The squirrel population is slightly above last year’s.
“We don’t have mast reports in yet, because the data is still being assembled,” the DNR official said. “We had a somewhat spotty mast crop. It was a hard mast crop, not a complete bust. We had some good mast in some areas.”
A final report on brood reports is still in progress, but Johansen expects a good turkey season for those inclined to stalk the big birds.
“Numbers were up a little bit last year,” he said.
“Food conditions in large part will drive much of the observe-ability and the hunt-ability, if you will, of turkey populations. I think turkeys will tend to be somewhat scattered this year. Mast conditions are going to be pretty good. When you have good mast conditions, turkeys do not tend to concentrate. They tend to scatter out somewhat. I think we’re going to have a really good turkey season this fall.”
A one-week season is set for Oct. 12-19 for Cabell, Calhoun, Gilmer, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Pleasants, Putnam, Ritchie, Summers, Taylor, Wetzel and Wyoming counties.
A split season, booked for Oct. 12-19, then again Oct. 28-Nov. 2, is in effect for Brooke, Hancock, Harrison, Marion, Marshall, Mason, Monongalia, Ohio, Preston, Tyler, Upshur, Wirt and Wood counties.
In the so-called traditional counties, the fall turkey season also is split — Oct. 12-19 for the
initial week, then Oct. 28-Nov. 16 in Berkeley, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Mineral, Monroe, Morgan, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, and Webster counties.
West Virginia’s big money maker — deer season — arrives Sept. 28 for bowhunters and continues through New Year’s Eve.
Traditionally sandwiched around Thanksgiving week, the firearms season for bucks is set for Nov. 25-Dec. 7.
A multimillion-dollar industry in West Virginia, the deer season this year is offering hunters a measure of convenience by not requiring them to check in a deer before taking the second one on the same day, Johansen said.
Hunters may bag two deer in one day, but only one may be a buck. Two does may be killed in a single day of hunting.
“You don’t have to worry about checking in your first deer before killing that second deer on that day,” Johansen said.
“That’s a positive change I think the hunters will be pleased to see. We’ve had that request for that concept over the years. As long as hunters are properly licensed, that will allow them to take multiple deer.”
Fewer shooting accidents have occurred in recent years and Johansen attributes this to the advent of a hunter safety education program, mandatory for young hunters.
“I think that’s really made a big difference,” he said.
“Of course, the other significant change several years ago was mandatory blaze orange. Hunting is an exceptionally safe sport. But any incident is an incident too many. We certainly urge hunters to use caution and clearly identify their target and what’s behind their target. Once that weapon is discharged, there’s no calling back the bullet.”
In fact, in modern times, hunters in West Virginia are more likely to fall victim to health issues and carelessness.
“That’s true,” Johansen said. “We’ve got folks unfortunately, because of a sedentary lifestyle and what not, the most activity they get in a given year is the opening day of buck season. They just in some cases over-exert themselves and run into problems that way.”
Using tree stands has become increasingly popular, and that leads to the potential of accidents, he said.
“It’s a great way to hunt deer, but hunters need to make sure they’ve got a safety harness on and use good judgment and common sense and keep that safety harness on at all times they’re up there in a tree and when they’re climbing the tree as well,” Johansen said.
Without fail, every hunting season witnesses participants falling from a tree stand and suffering injuries, at times fatal ones.
“That’s really unfortunate and certainly a preventable type of hunting accident,” Johansen said. “We urge those folks to use proper safety equipment, which is readily available at any sporting good store.”
For those inclined to nocturnal safaris, raccoon hunting remains as popular as it did generations ago.
“Raccoon hunting, particularly down in southern West Virginia, has always been a strong tradition, and it still is,” Johansen said. “We’ll have good raccoon populations out there for our houndsmen.”
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