The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

December 11, 2011

Muzzleloader season presents a second chance

BECKLEY — With weather conditions less than ideal during the first half of buck season, some hunters like me may have gone home empty-handed. The first three days of buck season are said to be the busiest days for deer hunting in West Virginia, with numerous hunters in the woods. This year, however, the weather didn’t quite cooperate with heavy fog and rain.

It’s been proven that when the weather is bad, the buck kill in turn is usually lower. I’d say that would be the case this year. I didn’t hear near the shots that I normally do over the course of the week in my area. It will be interesting to see the final numbers when they come in. I saw a few young bucks, but nothing worth pulling the trigger on. 

However, there were numerous big bucks taken this year that correlated with the plentiful mast last fall, lower deer population and an older-age class of bucks. It’s encouraging to see some nice bucks coming from the West Virginia hills and hollows this year and proof of how nutrition and age play a big part in having bigger bucks. The big bucks are here; they’re just smart, and when allowed to reach a mature age, grow a worthy set of antlers that look good on any hunter’s wall.

With an empty freezer, I’m not going to put my rifle back in the gun case just yet. Doe season was in all last week and another late doe season runs Dec. 28-31 if you didn’t make it out last week. It’s important to take a few antlerless deer every year to keep the deer herd in check. It also makes for not only a healthier herd, but a healthier habitat in general.

In years with poor mast, deer browse heavily on whatever vegetation they can find. A good way to tell if there are too many deer in your area is to look at the browse line. If you can see a long way and the woods are bare from the ground up to about 4 to 5 feet, then you probably have more deer than the habitat can support, or the habitat has reached its carrying capacity is the scientific term used.

I know older generations didn’t believe in killing does, as there weren’t as many deer back then as there are now. Times have changed and, granted, the deer population is lower than a few years ago, but many places still have too many deer. Doe season is the perfect opportunity to fill the freezer with tasty venison and reduce the population at the same time.

Be sure to check the hunting regulations before venturing out this week to see what the limit is for the county you’re hunting. Muzzleloader season comes in this week and runs Monday through Saturday, which also provides another chance to take a deer. I always look forward to pulling the ol’ smokepole out of the gun cabinet for the week-long season. The muzzleloader industry continues to grow, especially with the advent of the modern in-line muzzleloaders.

Some folks prefer the old flintlock rifles and like to take that step back in time and hunt like our early ancestors did. Regardless of which type of muzzleloader you use, there’s still the basic concept that requires loading powder, a bullet and a cap or primer as the ignition source. On the flintlock rifles a piece of flint is used to create a spark and ignite the powder charge.

The thing that makes muzzleloader hunting challenging is you only get one shot. I never get tired of pulling the trigger with a deer in my sights, only to watch it disappear in a huge cloud of smoke. It takes you back in time TO how our ancestors used to hunt the elusive whitetail.

And who knows, you may see a big buck that made it through the two-week buck season. Last year I saw a huge 10-point on the last day of muzzleloader season that snuck in behind me and disappeared before I could get a shot. I can still see him standing there; it’s an encounter I’ll never forget.

Good luck to those venturing out the rest of the 2011 deer seasons and be safe, but most of all enjoy your time in the great West Virginia outdoors!

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