By Mannix Porterfield
Hurricane Sandy unleashed a crippling snowstorm last month, but her mean streak isn’t likely to hurt West Virginia’s popular and profitable deer hunt.
While bow hunters might run into some access problems, the Division of Natural Resources says the October surprise that piled several feet of snow in some higher elevations won’t impact the two-week firearms season.
“It should not have any major impact on the buck season this year,” Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, said Friday.
Overall, however, once all the votes — the tags, that is — are in and counted, there may be some diminished outcome because of the archery season.
“In those regions of the state that had heavy snowfalls, that will restrict hunter access,” Johansen said.
“There are probably portions of the state that will see somewhat of a decline in the archery kill. And that prediction is based on the inability of hunters to get back into areas that they normally hunt. But as far as the overall biological impact on population, I think that impact would be minimal.”
Even though food conditions are a mite on the spotty side, deer are entering the winter months ahead in good shape from a nutritional standpoint, he said.
“Deer are very adaptable animals,” Johansen said.
“If we continue to get hammered with snow throughout winter, we could see some impacts. But one can’t predict what the weather is going to look like later this year. Mast conditions are somewhat spotty this year, but it’s not a complete bust.”
Mindful of that, some hunters might have to earn a buck, since some deer won’t be visible in open fields or along the edges of fields.
“I think they’ll tend to be back in the woods a little more this year, which may make them slightly less vulnerable to the harvest,” Johansen said.
“Hunters that know how to key in on food conditions and do a little bit of pre-season scouting should not have any trouble coming across deer this year.”
A year ago, hunters killed 60,157 bucks and Johansen expects a larger harvest in the two-weeks season sandwiched around the Thanksgiving holiday — a time when miners and others typically plan vacations and school attendance is noticeably down.
“If you look at the harvest results from last year, there will be some surplus bucks that rolled over in population,” the DNR official said.
“We have increased the opportunities for anterless deer hunting. So the overall deer harvest should be up this year. The buck harvest should be higher. We had a very good reproduction in 2011 because of really good mast in 2010. There’s a little bit of a lag factor in terms of the influence of bumper food available. We had just super abundant mast conditions in 2010 and that resulted in deer going into winter in 2010 in really good shape.”
Consequently, the reproduction in the spring of 2011 was excellent and that, coupled with a meek and mild winter, translates into an abundance of 11/2-year-old bucks, Johansen explained.
Deer season jingles many a cash register in Mom-and-Pop country, posing a make-or-break time of year for the small shops, diners, and motels in remote pockets.
Overall, the deer season translates into a $230 million shot in West Virginia’s economy.
“It’s almost mind-boggling,” Johansen said.
One factor is the popularity of West Virginia forests with out-of-state hunters. In recent years, the state has ranked 5th or 7th in non-resident license sales.
“And that makes sense when you think about it, just from the geography and where we’re located,” Johansen said.
This puts the state in close proximity to major metropolitan areas — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the nation’s capital.
“In addition to that, we do have pretty spectacular resources to offer the hunters,” Johansen said.
“We have ample places to hunt and we have an ample number of deer. Our success and our ability for folks to be able to hunt are pretty good here in West Virginia.”
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