By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
The two-week buck hunting season in West Virginia has ended. The first week of the season is the most popular hunting time in our neck of the woods and one many sportsmen fill with traditions from the past.
As hunters we are a valuable tool when it comes to the management of wildlife and to be honest, the science behind the seasons, dates and bag limits has always interested me. By all indicators, this season was predicted by many to be right on track or slightly higher in the number of deer taken over last year.
One of the main reasons for the optimistic forecast was the lack of acorns this fall. When acorns are abundant, deer can feed in the comforts of the back woods where they can easily hide or escape quickly if needed. When there is a lack of food in the woods, deer often use fields and brushy openings come meal time which makes locating and spotting deer more accessible to hunters.
It all makes perfect sense and can be a lot of fun if the weather plays along. But when the weather is sour, the number of harvested deer can decline quickly. Most of the annual harvest numbers occur during the first three days of the season. It makes sense for most hunters to take a few days off work that week to hunt against the Thanksgiving holiday to maximize their time afield. Additionally, when hunters travel home for the holiday to see their relatives, many choose to spend a morning or two hunting the old homeplace with the cousins and nephews.
Opening day this year was a perfect hunting day — a nice frost was on the ground, critters were moving and the afternoon sun warmed our faces. Shortly thereafter, the weatherman’s prediction of wind pushing in rain turning to sleet and eventually snow came rushing into most of the Mountain State. Hunting in the wind and the rain is a bummer, no matter how you slice it. The next two days of the season, you really had to want to go hunting pretty bad to sit in the inclement weather in hopes a deer would walk by.
The WVDNR tracks the annual harvest by collecting check-in tags from local stations where hunters go to record their harvest. Those numbers will be tallied quickly in the next few weeks. I am certainly not a wildlife manager and biology wasn’t my best subject in college, but I did hunt the first week and went to a check-in station several times to gather some local knowledge. As predicted, the opening day was a big one for hunters, and then the bad weather or having too much fun elsewhere kicked in. Day two and three harvest numbers at our local check-in station fell sharply.
So what does this mean for the hunters and the deer populations? It means we need to get busy marking our calendars as hunting days for the remainder of the year as deer season opportunities present themselves. With the lack of food this fall for the deer, the possibility of lower-than-expected buck season harvest (lots of deer still running around) and winter’s grip quickly approaching, things might get a little tricky. Nobody wants to think of what a bad, bad winter could do to our state’s deer population, so please do a little fair weather dance. Or better yet, go afield when able and take advantage of nature’s bounty by filling your freezer with fresh venison. Somewhere a landowner, a farmer or perhaps even a wildlife manager will thank you. Besides, it beats watching someone else hunt on TV any day, and there’s still plenty of time and hunting options left the rest of this year including antlerless, muzzleloader and bow seasons.