Photo: Lisa Nelson
West Virginia hunters are still getting adjusted to a range of new hunting opportunities. This year’s archery season opened a month earlier than normal. So did the squirrel season. This weekend, hunters will be in the woods in many West Virginia counties hunting deer…with rifles.
The 2012 regulations include a change which shifts three of the antlerless hunting days normally held in December on private land into October. Gary Foster, Game Management Supervisor for the DNR says there were several reasons to make the move, first was a desire to remove more does from the state’s deer herd on those private lands. Biologists say they thought the better way to get there was an October season rather than extending the December season days and bag limits.
“Weather is typically better and more attractive to get out than it may be later in December,” said Foster. “It should make more food available for other deer and wildlife on the landscape later in the year. Thirdly if we can take a significant percentage of female deer out, it will increase the intensity of the rut.”
Theoretically fewer does to breed would shorten the length of the rut. Increasing the intensity would be a huge benefit to bow hunters who live for the breeding season when bucks, especially wary older critters, tend to let down their guard.
“If we harvest enough to intensify the rut, it should make bow hunting during the first part of November very good,” he said. “But on the flip side, we’ve got three days of gun hunting that a lot of the bow hunting community had concerns with in October.”
The earlier antlerless hunting season raises more concerns among many sportsmen who fear over harvesting of deer could negatively impact future hunting success.
“From a biological standpoint that’s a positive thing if we have the majority of those bucks very intense in breeding at the same time,” said Foster. “We think the idea is biologically sound because we have more deer than the landscape can support.”
The new season is one of several changes to the DNR’s overall management plan for deer. Foster says the landscape of West Virginia has vastly changed from two decades ago. He says the lack of timber harvest has created a lopsided balance of forest lands in the state. There’s very little early successional habitat which follows a timber harvest and provides browse for deer and cover for other species like grouse and woodcock.
“Eighty percent of the state is now saw timber,” Foster said. “We have plenty of mast unless you have a bad mast year and that’s when it becomes a real problem for deer.”
He adds the declining number of hunters has also negatively impacted the harvest of deer overall in the past 20-years. It’s a trend which has happened across the nation as fewer and fewer young people hunt.
The three day season is October 25, 26, and 27. The hunt is limited to private land only in those counties which have an antlerless hunting season.