The most fertile place to grow big-racked bucks in West Virginia is the mid and upper Ohio River Valley. That may come as a shock to many when you consider that most of the truly trophy bucks killed in West Virginia in recent years have come out of southern West Virginia.
Gene Thorn is the man who keeps records for the West Virginia DNR on the biggest bucks killed in the Mountain State. Thorn says a study from the 1950’s revealed that the potential for the biggest bucks though lies in that fertile cropland of western West Virginia.
"There’s four psyiographic regions in West Virginia. Studies done way back in the 50’s showed where the best potential was for growing big deer, " said Thorn. "The western counties along the Ohio River are actually the best potential."
The number two region is the southern counties where most of those big bucks are now being killed. Third on that list were the northern mountains and the eastern panhandle was the last in that study.
One of the reasons so many bruising bucks come out of southern West Virginia is a lack of hunting pressure. Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, and McDowell Counties have been designated for archery hunting only for the past three decades. That absence of hunters with a more effective tool, the firearm, has allowed the deer to thrive down south.
"Every once in a while there will be a buck that comes form an area that’s not generally recognized as a big buck area, but most of the bucks are coming from southern West Virginia and a smattering of other places,” said Thorne.
Better habitat and more availability of food are also factors beyond hunting pressure that fuel those big deer in southern West Virginia.
Every year, the DNR sponsors a big buck contest in which they hope to hear from hunters who killed a trophy deer. Those are officially scored under the Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett scoring system. Those with a minimum score of 125 typical and 155 non-typical for a bow and gun kills of 140 typical and 165 non-typical are recorded forever in the record books of West Virginia. The DNR awards a certificate to all who meet those minimums, but the biggest every year is awarded a plaque for their accomplishment.
"We’ve actually been doing this since 1963 and we’ve compiled a data base of the bucks that have been killed not only in that time period, but also many killed before that,” Thorne said. "It does give us a data base by county and we can tell where the large deer are coming from."