A fresh carpet of snow provided a white background for clearer shots and good tracking opportunities, giving hunters a natural boost Monday in launching West Virginia’s annual bucks-only season for deer.

Intermittent rain during the weekend cast a short-lived gloom, reviving memories of last fall’s hunt when wet weather kept the buck kill down.

But the precipitation turned white early Monday, and that came as a blessing as the two-week season opened, Division of Natural Resources public relations official Hoy Murphy said.

“Snow is a plus for hunters because you can track deer and it makes them stand out against the white background,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of people out today. Several (deer) were checked in this morning. I haven’t seen any figures from every part of the state. And what we have is all preliminary. But we’re getting about what we expected.”

What’s more, weekend rainfall left fallen leaves wet, so hunters didn’t have to worry about making telltale noises alarming animals as they trudged through forests.

Day One normally is the biggest day of the brief season, since more hunters are out exciting deer and chasing them into rifle range.

“People plan for years around this event,” Murphy said. “They schedule their vacations for opening day. It’s a family tradition to get out there the first, second and third days, then have Thanksgiving, then go out the weekend after.”

Schools in many parts of West Virginia acknowledge this as well, along many employers.

Given the high rate of absenteeism of the past, companies allow vacations and a number of schools simply close the entire day to accommodate hunting families.

Last year, about 56,000 bucks were taken, a number reduced by rainstorms that discouraged many hunters.

A higher buck kill is predicted, given the number of holders from the 2005 hunt.

Most of the harvest occurs in the first three days, since more hunters are afield. That’s not to say West Virginia falls short of targets in the second half of the season. In fact, many hunters prefer the second week, and with good reason.

“Competition is not as high,” Murphy said. “And deer have had a chance to calm down after kind of getting spooked in the first week. They start running again.”

About 320,000 hunters fan out across West Virginia, including some 60,000 non-residents. West Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in selling licenses to out-of-staters. All told, the deer season provides a $233 million industry.

“A lot of our hunters are ex-patriate West Virginians who come back for the holiday to hunt with family and friends,” Murphy said.

“It’s part of their tradition.”

Murphy said the main source of hunting incidents these days appears to be heart attacks and tree stand accidents,” Murphy said.

Some hunters forget their age, and the pounds they have added, then try to drag a deer out of the woods, putting a heavy strain on the heart.

“They’re not in shape,” he said. “Some older hunters think they’re 25 years old again once they get in the woods. And they don’t take into account all that extra equipment and the clothing that keeps heat in.”

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