ELKINS, W.Va. — The buck season in West Virginia isn’t over yet, but more than a few hunters who chose to spend their first week hunting in West Virginia’s highest elevations are not happy. These high mountains at one time were the destination of hunters from throughout West Virginia, but times have changed.

“The deer herds here have crashed by half or more from a year ago and we didn’t have the deep killer snows last year, it was spread out.” writes Mike Snyder who lives in Dry Fork in Tucker County in an e-mail to Ram Trucks West Virginia Outdoors. “I live here. I can count the deer in the meadows as one measurement. I’m counting less than half.”

Another sources reported by the second day of buck season a check station in Harman in Randolph County, surrounded by Monongahela National Forest land, had only a handful of deer checked and most of those were of small body size.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources personnel are aware of the situation, but said it was nothing new. The trend has headed that direction for several years.

“We are aware of that and the primary issue there relates to habitat and habitat conditions,” said DNR Game Management Supervisor Gary Foster. “In a lot of the National Forest we’re not seeing the amount of forest management like timber sales and timber harvest we were seeing in the 70’s and early 80’s. We’ve lost a lot of that early successional and browse habitat.”

Timber sales on the million acre public forest are a fraction of what they were in the 1970’s. Two factors are blamed for the reduced level of logging. Lumber sales and demand have dropped in recent years, but have rebounded some in the last couple of years. The bigger obstacle is environmental groups opposed to all logging on federal land.

Although Snyder conceded logging had tapered some, he’s unconvinced it’s the sole problem for whitetail numbers and sizes in the mountain counties. He said predation and game management shared some of the blame.

“You can’t kill does annually in this climate without seeing diminished populations.” wrote Snyder. “Our mountains are not the same as in the broad valleys or the lower altitude hill country.”

“Historically the majority of the National Forest has been closed (to antlerless deer hunting) over the last several years with some exceptions,” said Foster. “But, I don’t think there’s any way you can point to over harvest on the national forest.”

Then there is the issue of predators. The main predator to be blamed in this case is the coyote. The coyote numbers in West Virginia have exploded in recent years. Contrary to a popular myth, the state never “stocked” coyotes in West Virginia. They’ve been here since the dawn of time and have increased in size and numbers as food sources increased and offered better nutrition. Snyder is convinced a large part of their diet is venison and mutton.

“The majority of the sheep raisers here have quit due to coyotes and raise Angus.  And sheep don’t need browse, they need protection from the coyotes we hear nightly.” said Snider. “Coyotes have become a gruesome fact that the DNR is tuning out–they only see the tip of this iceberg.”

Foster doesn’t tune out the possibility of predation, particularly in areas where deer numbers are already low, but adds there are high numbers of coyotes all over the state and the impact is largely minimal.

“Coyotes get the blame. They definitely take fawn deer in the summer time. Where they may be having a little more of an impact is where you have lower populations,” Foster explained. “But overall I do not think the coyote is having a detrimental impact on whitetail deer populations across West Virginia.”

The problem with increasing numbers of coyotes isn’t exclusive to West Virginia, nor is the habitat problem. Many states in the eastern half of the country are dealing with identical problems of maturing hardwood forest and over abundant coyotes.

“In heavily forested states like West Virginia where we’re 80 percent woods, you’ve got to have good mast conditions, but you’ve also got to have a balance of young forest in that sapling stage,” Foster said. “Then when mast conditions are poor, deer can browse on stems and twigs. When you don’t have that it’s very hard on deer.”

The final numbers on the 2013 buck season won’t be known for several weeks when the season is over and check tags are collected.

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Comments

  • wvman75

    Tree huggers screwing up deer populations and hunting. Most would be lost in the woods. The deer health is suffering as a result. They're dimwits.

    • Keith

      I'm a dimwit! Don't be calling me a treehugger!

  • Jordan

    Ive hunted in the mountains off and on my whole life. Ive hunted around dolly sods, canaan valley, and all through in between. For anyone to say that the over abundance of Doe seasons in these counties (tucker, randolph, grant, mineral) isnt a problem needs to wake up. Now, is that the only problem with less and less deer in these counties, NO, but its still a big one. There is nothing to eat up high, no acorns, no wild cherry, no berries, so the deer often turn to pines, ferns, and other green foliage but dont get the fat content they need which leads into starvation through the bad winters in the mountains. Coyotes are a huge problem that the DNR continue to shove aside also. All of these reasons are why we dont see many deer in the mountains.

    • Fastwater

      Good article, Chris. Checking stations in Elkins, Seneca Rocks, Davis, and Whitmer
      reporting decreased numbers.

      Snyder, by the way, lives in Randolph County.

      • Chris Lawrence

        Sorry must have misread his email

      • Fastwater

        I meant the Thomas checking station, not Davis.

  • longbeards

    Being a 7th generation West Virginian, I do not see any easy answer to improving deer quality and numbers.
    I aqree that the deer population has changed greatly over the years. I have hunted several counties in the state over the years, but do most of my hunting in Hardy and Pendelton. Two of what DNR might refer to as the traditional deer hunting counties. Today, after several years of poor mast conditions, unlimited doe hunting and crop damage permits, and increased bear and coyote presure that has reduced the fawn recruitment, and a slow down in timbering, the herd has fallen almost to the numbers of the early 60s.
    That being said, it is not all bad, we are killing bigger bucks, having weighed deer since 1981 killed at my place and neighboors, I have seen the size of the deer go from below a 100pds for the average buck, to over 130 pds dressed. With many over 150 pds dressed.
    In recent years I am starting to think that we may well be killing to many doe, but at the same time enjoy hunting bigger bucks. As for DNR and the National Forest doing any type of habitat improvement, it is just about non-existant. GW National forest has great potential, but you will be hard pressed to find active food plots that are managed and taken care of . It costs lots of money to do such, and farming the mts is not easy. I manage a good deal of land and from experence can say that. WV DNR is improving, they are starting to micro manage the deer and bear in our state, no longer is it a one size fits all plan, which is good as the 4 geographical regions of WV vary greatly in what plans need to be applied to the area. I would love to see DNR hire work crews to work putting in just food plots,,,doing improvement cuts, and in general improving the hunting in the state. Back in the early 80s, Mr Bailey, (I hope I spelled his name right) put in several in Poc County, when he left the state NOTHING was ever followed up on. DNR is benifitting from the sale of huge numbers of licenses, lets lobby to earmark a certain percentage to go back to wildlife, in paticular the areas that generated it, hunting...
    Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Concerned

      Agree as well. But it does cost a lot of money to take care of habitat and deer herds. Add in the fact that we keep cutting state budgets and it's probably not going to get better.

    • Allegheny

      Agree. Good comment.

      Really like that you weigh your harvested deer. Lower overall deer numbers may lead to larger bucks due to more food being available while they are in velvet. Downside, at least for some, is that not everyone gets a buck every year. Higher overall deer numbers generally leads to smaller bucks but everyone gets their buck every year. The balance is somewhere in between depending on your goals - fewer but larger deer or more deer without regard to size (antler or body weight). A few private landowners in the Potomac Highlands region are practicing the basic principles of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) with good results.

    • Charleston,WV

      Well stated! I am in total agreement with your statements!

  • Larry

    Personally, I have witnessed no shortage of deer in the parts of WV I am frequently in, I see them at all hours of the day, in front yards, fields, middle of the road, woods, etc.

    • Dave

      I had 20 does in the yard next to my house last night...ALL small...ALL looking for something to eat...there is nothing in the woods for them.

      I live in a rural subdivision with the average lot size around 2.5 acres. No Hunting is allowed within the subdivision as the home owners association charter was established by the past owner of the property prior to sale of the lots.

      There are more deer within my subdivision than the woods around it. And the deer know they are safe there.

      This is very common and that's why some municipalities have special archery seasons within their boundaries. However, when outside the city limits, if you are in a subdivison with rules drafted by a homeowners association, their is no hunting of any form allowed....no matter if you own a sizable amount of property (multiple lots)...and the DNR will enforce the rules of the HOA and you do get fined.

      So don't complain when every tree you planted or the garden you plant every year is devastated by hungry deer.

      • Concerned

        Don't believe there's nothing to eat. Believe too many feed the deer and they just go where the food is easy. If there's no food around your house, they won't stay.

      • Larry

        Electric fences seem to keep them out of gardens.

        • Dave

          Yes, electric fences do work. My neighbor had a 6-foot high fence with a large meter attached. After it was knocked down three times by a group of deer he installed a double fence that had one at 8 foot high with a inner fence separtated by 8 feet that was again 6 foot high. Both on separate meters...it seemed to work...but what a cost for a 100 X 100 foot garden.

  • Mt Storm Hunter

    I belong to one of the largest hunting clubs in WV, Mountain Top Hunting Club. There is plenty of browse to eat there and no deer. I hunted today and in years past I would have seen 10-15 deer. I hunted from daylight to dark and saw 2 deer. How does the DNR explain that one.

    The reason we are losing deer is because of over hunting, period! West Virginia is the number one state in the nation for vehicle versus deer collisions. So the state says, "lets add another doe season." Before long the numbers in the mountain areas of Grant, Tucker and Mineral will have populations similar to the ones in the 30-40s. My Grandfather said if you even seen a track you were a lucky hunter.

    Coyotes and bear are killing fawns in the spring. BEAR DOGS are also killing fawns with early training seasons. I even overheard a hunter laughing that he knocked one his dogs in the head (killed it) when it brought a dead fawn back to the truck.

    • Lady Bear hunter

      I live and hunt in Randolph county, I hunt deer (bow and rifle) and I also hunt bear with hounds. Do I believe that True bear hounds kill fawns? No I do not. I know from experience that other are some people that call themselves bear hunters and have only went a couple of times. But I will leave the rest of my opinion on that topic to myself..
      And if no one believes that the doe seasons in our county are affecting the deer population then they need to come up and see for their selves. It is absolutely ridiculous when you can sit in your stand four hours and see one deer.

    • Larry

      Anyone who would "knock his dog in the head" because it may have killed a fawn, or who beats, or even kills their hunting dogs, or other dogs because they don't do exactly what they believe they should, are sick, twisted individuals, and they should be jailed for it.

      • thornton

        Yes, but one need not believe everything some folks say....folks often lie for an effect.

        • Mt Storm Hunter

          I am not gullible and to this day, I believe he actually did. I've seen the same person beat a dog with a chain leash. What do you say to someone who is so radical when you are bewildered by their actions. Needless to say that was my last bear hunt.

        • Larry

          True, although I have witnessed people give unmerciful beatings to hunting dogs for not "listening", and I know for a fact people who have shot and killed beagles and other "hunting dogs" simply because they weren't up to par, it's sickening.

          • thornton

            Yes, I agree...not all folks should own a dog. Some consider them little more than a hammer.

            However, it appears that the economy also has some non-hunting folks discarding their dogs as too expensive.

            A shame...the world is a rough place at times.

    • thornton

      "Hunting Clubs" and Karma......ta daa.

  • Fubar

    Coyotes have devastated the local deer population on my part of Cheat Mtn. Our fields we're full of pregnant does this spring but something got the fawns. The WVDNR seems unwilling to admit the serious harm coyotes are inflicting to mountain deer herds.

    • Jim

      I've heard bears kill alot of fawns is that true. I know their are more bears now maybe than ever before.

  • northforkfisher

    I live and hunt in Pendleton county and can tell u by fact the coyotes are death on the deer population. The years when the coyotes numbers r high our deer population is way down.
    We try not to kill does and the population is still way down. When I was a teenage hunter, we could see herds of 30 to 40 does. Now in the same place we are lucky ti see 3 to 4 does.
    My dad has hunted this mt since the 60s. He said the hunting is worst now then in the 60s when there was no deer.
    We brag of deer season as be our bread maker, then we need to get the numbers back up. Several of the out of state people around us did not come in this year because of the low numbers.

  • leroy j gibbs

    Poaching or late night road hunting along the forest roads is the biggest issue. I used to hunt the mountains .every time a big buck was seen it didn't see the light of the next day. Someone shot it by spotlight
    Nothing but outlaws there

    • northforkfisher

      We are not all outlaws here. I get just as frustrated as you to hear of a big buck killed out of season. We called the game warden and all they say is that there is 2 game wardens to cover Grant and Pendleton counties.
      It also happens with the trout around here. They snag them as fast the put them in the river. You tell them when and where to catch them. They want you to tell them names, vehicles, and every thing else. The problem with that is these crazy few will go as far as shoot you.

    • Larry

      Probably those southern West Virginians who come north and shoot everything that moves.

  • Jim

    The state forests and WMA's usually have what they call wildlife areas or food plots a family of rabbits coudln't live on what they plant!!!! I was at Camp creek state forest and no mast and nothing in the eight wildlife areas. But they sure have timbered there and done what with the money????

    • leroy j gibbs

      Maybe the forest fire in Seneca will help with habitat in a few years. Just a thought

  • thornton

    Cut trees and kill does....seems simple.

    It's easier and cheaper to hate coyotes though...or blame the DNR.

    Plus, one has to accept that not all areas will exist with conditions that keep the deer hunters happy. Hmmm....perhaps this is Karma speaking or, in other words, the deer hunter's turn in the wringer.

    • WVIRGINIAN FOR LIFE

      Your replies are always way off the mark. Don't you have a life? Do you sit on your sofa and spew out bull crap. Find a hobby or perhaps you could start lobbying for more DNR law enforcement to catch poachers and timbering. It's obvious you don't hunt or if you do you don't care passionately about the problem so you are definitely not part of the solution.

      • thornton

        I don't hunt deer anymore, that's true as it is far too boring and there are far bigger hunting names on other lines....and nope, no passion at all arising from fewer deer...only wish it had happened sooner but, Karma can be slow.

        I don't hunt ruffed grouse locally anymore, partially due to the negatives deer hunting has introduced and also partially from deer over-population in some areas and the result of that sad occurrence.

        As folks incorrectly blame hawks for low grouse populations, so do many blame the coyotes for deer issues. Help for both can arrive from the same source but I doubt your mind can stray far enough from those fewer deer you see to understand.

        It's clear from your comments that you are one of the self-focused and selfish type of deer hunters. Good luck with that as that road offers no solutions to your bleated problem, at all.....just clear sailing on the superslab to whine and blame the DNR, coyotes and the miscreants that are part of the hunting fraternity.

        As to those poachers...never a good thing but small taters compared to proper and effective game and habitat management.

        If you want to comment intelligently rather than cry about your lack of deer....then look wider than yourself, read a bit and learn....or just stay under the porch with the others.

        • mnt deer 4 u

          You don't hunt grouse locally. Hmmm

          • thornton

            "mnt deer 4 u
            You don't hunt grouse locally. Hmmm"

            Point?

            I don't deer hunt because it is boring. That interest was decades ago for me and it easily waned and disappeared.

            I don't grouse hunt locally because the populations do not support the additivity...especially late season. However, in some areas, they do. One should count their blessings if lucky.

            I don't expect you to understand that idea of additivity re the ruffed grouse.

            I do expect you to always put the hunter first and find value in a woods rat.

            Each to their own. The deer folks should simply consider losing the selfishness and consider the downsides to other hunters that their preference and focus delivers.

        • mnt deer 4 u

          You don't deer hunt. Ok.

        • WVIRGINIAN FOR LIFE

          Thornton, you are part of the problem...not the solution...a narrow minded hunter who thinks he know everything....all of your comments this year are rich in arrogance and self centered hypocrisy.

          • The bookman

            Charleston:

            That type of regulation would be more in line with the habitat we have in those high regions...the biologists could tell you the impact on numbers and determine whether bow only or limited gun season would help...but the overall health of the forest as a whole should be the goal...and the USFS is not about to move in that direction for at least another 7-10 years, if then!

          • Charleston,WV

            Bookman: Thanks for the incite as the points were well taken and understood. Do you think maybe those particular areas should adopt the hunting management policies similar to the four bow-hunting only counties in southern West Virginia in order to improve quality?

          • The bookman

            Dave: Don't think Thornton was running for president of the local hunt club!!! Just because you don't see 30-40 deer in a day doesn't indicate a lower than "normal" population...30-40 deer in a day in one location may be too many deer, an unsustainable level based on the resources available...this is not the put and take trout design where we raise them and feed them and stock them and catch them...this is real population ecology that has impacts on the environment that reach beyond the deer and the three months of deer harvest season...they live in the habitat year round, foraging for food, bearing young, real impacts across the habitat...try to step back and see the bigger picture...it's not just whitetail deer!

          • The bookman

            Charleston: in the highlands it's a MNF issue, so it is federally controlled, and I see the state doing a much better job on forests like Kumbrabow for example..USFS would never cede control to management of their lands as they are controlled by long term land use plans that are revised every ten years to my knowledge...it is a process that is over run by special interest and sets the direction of use of the forest in terms of recreation and resource management...not specific action but direction and goals...read flexibility to implement and execute...the process is frought with special interest, with environmental groups driving their successful agenda of making National Forests more like National Parks...so what we currently have is not multiple use management, we have Sierra club management by proxy with about 1% annual regeneration cuts on a very mature forest...not sound practice...locals can howl all they want...it's federal land...they control it's management...so the DNR responds to the hunter by attempting to improve herd numbers in a habitat that won't support a population that size on a regular average year...when the players are in place and boom mast year happens, nature responds and populations flourish...but then multiple mast failures decimate the population leaving the IMPRESSION something has killed the deer...poachers, coyotes, winter, name your favorite...the highlands are not a habitat that will produce high whitetail populations...better to manage it for quality than quantity as shown last year by Big Nasty in the Valley Head area of Randolph County or as longbeards suggests is already occurring in Pendleton County.

          • Charleston,WV

            Bookman: Just out of curiousity, are you pro-state or pro-federal in regards to the management of the "Highlands"? I know some people want the state and local authorities to regulate the land in your respective region, whereas others want the land to be managed by federal agencies. What's your point of view?

          • The bookman

            Is it possible that the problem you cite, the low number of white tails available for you to hunt, are a reality due to the natural selective pressures of the habitat, and that the capacity of that habitat is much less than you would like it to be? Without additional resources like water, food, and cover all species will seek a population level that meets the available resources...the DNR cannot continue to regulate the population levels of the whitetail at the expense of the overall health of forest...however it is no wonder that they continue to attempt to increase the herd to ecologically damaging levels given the outcry from guys like you who were spurned of bagging their 17th spike buck in a row...sometimes less is more...btw I do live in the high country, not an eastern panhandle subdivision, and there are more than enough deer around...just ask any auto body repairman!

          • thornton

            Nope...but I'm certainly not deer-centered as is so popular today. THAT selfish focus, is the problem for many species, deer included.

            Nice try to spin away from your inability to think past your own preferences though....some of the choir may even buy it.

            Actually for finding arrogance and the rest, I need only recall driving in the north road to Canaan Valley....past the deer camps where the site of dog boxes raises the scowls of ..."my day is ruined." Therein in those looks and attitudes lies the arrogance of MINE that has ruined much and is on the way to negatively affecting the critters they prefer.

            Again, learn a bit about issues past what makes you happy.

  • Shadow

    One of the best things that hunters could do is to become a Varmint Hunter and take up on coyotes. There season is unlimited, they are everywhere, and a real challenge to a hunter's abilities. It would not only help the deer but the rabbits and other small game. The real sad part of this situation is that some folks in their pursuit of "goodliness" can't understand the benefits of forest management, thereby contributing nothing to Society but a loud voice.

    • Hollowhunter

      I agree with you shadow ! I have and do. I am new to this site and love most everyone's comments. I have givin mine but Thorton seems to be an educated individual but has no common sense and should keep his mouth shut !!!

  • Gun Dog

    The deer are essentially starving. The USFS use to manage for early successional habitat, also called young forest. The green groups got the USFS to manage for species of "bio-diversity". There are 80 species of wildlife that depend on early successional, young forest growth, for at least some aspect of their life cycle. Deer need more than ferns to eat and that is the only thing growing under the canopies of these mature forest. If it wasn't for the private land that is nearby to the National Forest there would be even fewer deer. Sad situation that the hunters stay asleep until the situation gets this bad. Speak out folks. Tell the USFS to cut some darn trees!

  • JL

    Here we go again the DNR blaming everything but there liberal doe seasons. The same thing is going to happen to the deer herd in the valley counties. You cannot keep a liberal doe season every year and expect the deer herd to surive. Poaching is getting worse every year never see a game check anymore.

  • Mtn Hunter

    I would add to Foster's comments on habitat conditions to include acid rain/deposition. The mountains of WV receive higher annual precipitation. Couple that with soils that have a poor buffering capacity and you've got a recipe for disaster...acidic soils with low nutrient availability. Not only is there less available forage but it is of lower nutritional value.

  • WVIRGINIAN FOR LIFE

    Will we ever have a director who isn't a political crony........I live in the meadows and lowlands. I have watched our deer population dwindle for the past two decades. So the decrease in mountain deer isn't surprising. The liberal doe seasons coupled with an increase in poaching has been devastating. I hear rifle shots starting in August and that continue thru February. It's unbelievable and simply heart breaking how many poachers are out there. We stopped calling the DNR about the gun shots out of season since they are under staffed and can't focus on more than one investigation at a time. They are doing their best. Hunters are in the field very often. But our views are discounted at every turn. The Spring meetings are a joke. Our voices are not heard. Why must hunters contact delegates to get a license or regulation change submitted as a Bill in the legislature. That's ridiculous. Ok, so it's time for the DNR and our legislators to get their heads out of their butt and do something. All I know is, I am not seeing the amount of deer I saw in the field twenty years ago. And it's not all due to browse or coyotes. It's over killing of the herd and poaching!!

    • Charleston,WV

      Yep. You also forgot to mention the mast conditions over the past year or so. I was hunting near Turkey Creek in Putnam Co. during the early antlerless season in late October, and the deer herds were in abundance. They were not in good health, though, as you could see the rib cage on a lot of them, probably due to malnourishment. I passed on several. Also, I am not sure where you reside, but a lot of the herd in Kanawha Co areas have moved to the suburban residential living areas where they are essentially harm free.

      • WVIRGINIAN FOR LIFE

        I'm in the Eastern Panhandle. I agree with you. I could kill more healthy deer in my backyard within a subdivision than anywhere else in the state.

        • Dave

          I live in Hampshire County....a lot of the hunters that don't have access to farms with fields are not having ANY success...I hunted hard for the first week in Tucker County at the Canaan Valley NWR...didn't see a single deer all week...the only deer I saw where the ones in my subdivision at night.

          The deer that I have seen look REALLY small...a friends young daughter shot a doe that was estimated to be a little over a year old and was no bigger than the neighbors collie dog.

          I know that some have had success....but many haven't. I watched a few bucks all year long and about 2 weeks before the season opener they were gone....I've heard large caliber gun shots in the woods since the start of October with no shooting ranges around. I believe that with the current times...people are poaching just to put meat on the table...but I do understand that a large ring was nabbed in the eastern panhandle of the state.

          Truly a disappointing year.


          I

          • WVIRGINIAN FOR LIFE

            Yep, and that ring has been operating here since I was a teenager many years ago based on what I used to hear at the local gun shops. Yes, I hear rifles going off at all hours of the day and nite starting in August. Poachers are everywhere in the panhandle. Whether it is economically based to out food on the table doesn't make it right. I also hear of Agriculture permits being issued that are way out of control here. The DNR Spring meetings need to be more than just Q&A and flip harts to write down ideas and suggestions. My dad used to take me to Hampshire and Hardy counties when I was a boy and I remember watching herds of 50 - 60 deer running in the fields next to woods edge. You don't see that anymore. I'm not sure how to fix this mess, but an organized effort that brings all hunters and state officials together in a concerted effort would be a start.

          • Mnt deer for you

            Historically, with harsh winters and poor soil the deer will not do as well as some of the other counties in West Virginia. The forest does need proper timber management practices to vary the age groups in the forest. Unfortunately, these mountain deer are highly dependent upon mast and this year was a bust.

            I'm not sure what the answer is but seeing 60 deer a day is not it. Too many deer and an imbalanced buck to doe ratio.

            The dnr has a formula when deciding upon doe seasons and with the low kills in those counties they will react accordingly. The DNR is not the problem.