A crisp fall breeze rustled the leaves around me as I spied him in the distance. A six or seven point buck was nosing around in a small clearing about 50 yards from my treestand situated on a hilltop in Monongalia County.
I had seen this buck at least twice that week. However, he’d stayed in that same little clearing, munching on crab apples just out of bow range.
Today, however, the wind was in my favor and so was luck. The buck tossed his head backward as if interested in something and came straight down the trail toward me at a trot. He stopped, 10 yards away and obliged me with a short left turn and a broadside shot.
That was one of my first bow hunting experiences more than a decade ago. During the past 20 years, the popularity of archery hunting has grown by leaps and bounds. It hasn’t quite eclipsed the anticipation of the opening day of gun season in West Virginia, but it’s close.
"We’re going to have over 130,000 hunters heading out to the woods on Saturday morning in pursuit of some type of big game," said DNR game biologist Scott Warner. "This number continues to grow. We continue to see a lot of non-residents coming to West Virginia to take advantage of all the hunting areas we have around the state."
Those out of state guests are no doubt attracted by the four archery hunting only counties in southern West Virginia. Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, and McDowell counties have been off limits to deer hunting with a gun for nearly a generation. That was a restriction originally imposed to preserve and restore the deer populations, but now has become a tool of trophy deer management.
"We are an envy of a lot of surrounding states to have four counties that are bow hunting only," Warner said. "If you are looking for older age deer, that may be where you need to set your sights. The buck population down there has really produced some wall hangers."
One look at the terrain of those counties, however, will show you any wallhanger you take will be hard earned. The severe topography is nearly straight up and down in many hollows where the biggest bucks haunt. Scouting, patience, and physical fitness are key ingredients for success here.
The rest of the state offers abundant opportunities for success however. Deer populations continue to be high. Warner says this year’s mast survey reflects spotty food for deer, but in many areas there is enough of an acorn crop to keep them in the woods. Success may also be found by hunting the edges of farm fields along corridors that lead to evening feeding grounds for whitetails.
Deer are not the only quarry that hunters will be after. Bear are now in abundance around the state and the archery season for the bruins also opens this weekend.
"Nowadays, bear country is statewide," he said. "We’ve got a growing bear population."
Hunters are reminded they need to purchase a bear damage stamp if they intend to take a bear. Most counties also allow hunters to kill up to three deer with a bow, but the additional buck tags are necessary for the second and third kills and those have to be purchased by midnight Friday. License are available over the Internet at www.wvhunt.com.