The date has been circled on the calendar for many West Virginians for nearly a year: Nov. 22, opening day of the state’s main deer hunting season.

It’s the biggest day of the biggest hunting season in West Virginia — the start of the state’s annual two-week gun season for bucks.

Thousands of hunters are expected to head out before dawn’s early light today in search of a trophy buck or doe. The hunt is a big economic boom. Hunters spend about $233 million on hunting licenses, ammunition, knives, orange jackets and other gear, according to the state Division of Natural Resources.

“This is the biggest event in the state,” said Curtis Taylor, head of the DNR’s wildlife section. “It is our NASCAR or it’s the Superbowl.”

The DNR says an estimated 280,000 licensed hunters will hunt during the bucks season, which runs through Dec. 4. To put that figure in perspective, that’s roughly equivalent to one in five adult West Virginians taking up a gun and going hunting.

The DNR estimates hunters will kill about 117,000 deer during the combined buck and doe firearms seasons, which run through Dec. 11. And more than half those deer will be bucks, some 63,000. The rest will be a mix of does and fawns shot during antlerless season.

“The average person in West Virginia kills right at two deer a year,” Taylor said.

Hunters take significant numbers of deer during the state’s archery and muzzleloader seasons, as well. Last year archers bagged more than 28,000 deer, of which more than 9,000 were taken during muzzleloader season. The last day to bag a deer in the state is Dec. 31, when bow season ends.

West Virginia’s deer herd has good to excellent conditions going into the season, particularly compared with 2009, when food such as acorns was scarce.

“Last year was almost the worst year on record. This year may be almost the best,” Taylor said.

The state’s big deer herd — Taylor says it easily tops 1 million animals — plus online license sales and vast areas of public land also attract about 40,000 nonresident hunters to West Virginia every year.

“Last report we got from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, West Virginia, believe it or not, was fifth in the nation,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of deer, we have a very liberal season, a very liberal bag limit and we’ve got 1.5 million acres of public land.”

Gun season is open in all counties except Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming, where deer hunting is limited to bow hunting. Sunday hunting is legal in 14 counties, but only on private land.

The DNR has also extended the state’s black bear season to coincide with the two-week buck season. Hunters will be allowed to kill a bear and a buck on the same day in 10 counties where the seasons coincide.

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