By Clint Ferguson
For The Register-Herald
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) released the total harvest numbers for the 2013 deer, black bear and the fall turkey seasons in a recent press release.
“Preliminary counts of game checking tags indicate West Virginia hunters harvested a total of 150,268 white-tailed deer during the recently completed bucks-only, antlerless, muzzleloader, archery and Youth/Class Q/Class XS deer seasons, according to Division of Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro. This year’s total harvest was 14 percent above the 2012 deer harvest of 132,261.”
The 2013 Antlerless season totals were up this year with 57,350 deer taken. Muzzleloader totals were higher than last year as well with 7,316 deer falling to the ole smoke pole. Archery hunters took 28,574 deer with their bow and arrows and also saw an increase.
“Archery harvests are correlated to hard mast crops and the below-average acorn crop was a significant factor for the higher harvest in 2013. West Virginia hunters harvested 2,682 black bears during the combined 2013 archery and firearms seasons,” according to Paul Johansen, assistant chief in charge of game management for the WVDNR.
“The preliminary harvest data for the combined 2013 seasons were nearly identical to the 2012 harvest of 2,691 bears. The black bear harvest of 2013 marks the fourth time in the past five years that the harvest has topped 2,000 and is the second highest harvest on record.”
As in years past the amount of mast present determines whether archery hunters kill more than gun hunters and vice versa. Last fall the only oak trees that produced acorns were in the higher elevations of the eastern mountains. Statewide, the 2013 Mast Survey documented the lowest oak index in the survey’s history. Beech and hickory produced well and helped the wildlife some with the lack of acorns.
“Decreased mast conditions statewide allowed archers to pattern bears effectively and led to an increased archery harvest. Decreased mast conditions also led to a decline in the December firearms season harvest. The combined effects of firearms hunting with or without hounds in September and October and the concurrent bear and deer hunting seasons in 29 counties helped offset the decline in harvest during the December season.”
In years with heavy mast, gun hunters contribute more to the final total as bears will stay out feeding on the abundant food source into December. That wasn’t the case this year as once the mast became sparse the bears went to their dens and were harder to find during the December gun season.
As a result, “hunters took 851 bears during the 2013 archery season. The top five counties were Wyoming (75), Fayette (61), Raleigh (58), Logan (52) and Randolph (52).
“Firearms hunters harvested 1,831 bears during 2013. Hunters took 679 bears in September and October, 361 during the concurrent buck/bear season, and 791 during the traditional December season. The top five counties were Randolph (245), Pendleton (201), Greenbrier (151), Webster (134) and Pocahontas (131).” These counties always tend to be at the top and they also were the ones that actually had a few acorns on the ridgetops.
Fall turkey hunters took 1,013 turkeys during the 2013 season. The harvest was down from the 2012 season as well as below the five-year average despite more counties being open. “Only District 2 in the Eastern Panhandle showed an increase (29 percent) in harvest while the other districts experienced declines.”
“Fall wild turkey harvests are highly influenced by hunter participation, annual turkey poult recruitment, and hard mast conditions,” said Curtis Taylor, chief of WVDNR. “Turkey brood observations this past summer were down slightly from 2012 and considerably below the five-year average. This was expected due to the high amount of rainfall in June and July which resulted in lower poult survival.”
Top counties for 2013 were Preston (77), Monroe (71), Randolph (69), Greenbrier (58) and Pocahontas (55). Despite an increase in the number of counties open to fall hunting, the traditional fall hunt counties including Preston County, the Eastern Panhandle, and Mountain regions of the state accounted for 63 percent of the total fall kill.