It’s no surprise to West Virginia hunters that the biggest bucks in the state are routinely killed in the four southern counties that are restricted to archery hunting only.
Most will tell you that the lack of hunting pressure from the more prevalent gun season plays a big role in limiting hunting pressure on those bucks during the two-week season in November. However, that’s only part of the reason.
"The southern counties outside of the four bow counties are the most consistent producers of big bucks in the gun season," said Gene Thorn who keeps records of trophy bucks killed in the state dating back to before 1963. "Boone, Raleigh, Kanawha, Fayette, those are big buck producing counties."
Thorn says the state is broken into four regions–based on the types of soil each region contains. The best soils to produce the biggest whitetails are found along the Ohio River. Southern West Virginia ranks second best.
"The southern counties have really good soils and they are second in the state for their potential to produce big bucks. When you add into that the rugged terrain in the southern counties and all of those different things mixing together, it allows bucks to grow a little older which is key to producing big racks."
Changes in mining and timbering practices in recent years have also helped to preserve good food sources for those southern West Virginia deer. Thorn says the factor to produce big bucks that gets the most attention–probably matters the least.
"It has a lot to do with minerals in the soil, it has very little to do with genetics,” explained Thorn. "The deer have the genetics to produce big racks if they get the age and the quality of food."
The north central part of West Virginia is third on the list of areas with potential to produce big deer and last would be the eastern panhandle and eastern slopes of the West Virginia mountains.
"That part of the state produces very few large bucks for that reason,” said Thorn.
There are exceptions to every rule. Thorn says he has seen improved rack sizes out of places like Jefferson County in recent years through the DNR’s Big Buck Contest. The national forest will also occasionally produce a well-hidden bruiser that may never have laid eyes on a human until his demise.