By Bob Fala Outdoors Columnist
November 10, 2013
What’s the story for this year’s ever important, traditional two-week gun buck or “rifle” deer season, as it’s widely known? You know the one that opens as always the Monday of Thanksgiving week (Nov. 25). And what a fitting time of the year it is for just that. But cutting to the chase, the WVDNR deer managers ring in via bold-face print in their recent Hunter Outlook with a 2013 gun buck kill that “should be similar to the harvest of 2012.”
To put that in perspective, last year’s kill was some 56,000 antlered ones. That’s a 27th rank on the all-time list. Likewise, it pales in the face of the nigh 103,000 record taken just back in 1997. It’s also a far cry from that agency’s once Strategic Plan goal for annual bun buck kills of 90,000! Do I see a little steam beginning to flow out of the deer hunter’s ears, particularly if they own camps in one of the famous national forest counties the likes of Tucker, Pocahontas, Randolph, Greenbrier and Webster where deer numbers have dwindled?
For those folks, the old deer camp just ain’t what she used to be and many of them are abandoned and in shambles as a result. As can be seen, the deer times surely are a changing. Most notably, the “White-Tailed Deer Operational Plan” has replaced the former Strategic Plan and it has effectively lowered the bar on the Mountain State deer herd.
Some lowering was in order but the current magnitude is not set in stone either. One deer manager even hinted that last year’s kill was in fact a bit higher than what this new plan called for. But why lower the bar in the first place?
Many of the former plan’s harvest goal’s for counties like Boone, Clay, Fayette and Raleigh that are brutally steep, with infertile sandy soils and mature contiguous forests could never reach their former deer density goals. The habitats were simply not good enough. On the statewide basis, maturing forests are also lowering the habitat bar for deer as well. The brush created by wide scale logging may be the greatest hope in the short term. That is, an improving timber market should help.
Sure, deer like acorns but reach their greatest numbers in the brush stage like just after heavy logging where there is more browse available within a few feet of the ground. But starting about with the New Millennium year of 2000, multiple mast failures and the return of normal winters, sometimes in combination and dreaded disease outbreaks the likes of the letter names of CWD and EHD caused either massive die-offs or quarantine like measures aimed at stopping their spread.
The deer eating predator trio of bobcats, coyotes and black bears have increased many times over just since that record buck kill of 1997. Human hunters are now “sharing their harvest” more so than any time since the colonial days here rife with timber wolves and mountain lions to boot (but not coyotes).
On the bright side, there are strong indications that via deliberately directing the hunter kill more toward the antlerless segment of the deer herd, more of the antlered bucks are living longer to produce their higher potential headgear. So yes, hunters have in effect helped to manage or reduce the herds by their bullets, arrows and round-balls. As a result of all this stuff in the collective, hunters may be seeing fewer, older bucks but the ones they are seeing should be wearing bigger average racks.
And when all else fails deer-wise fails for the camp survivors out there, just remember that it’s about a whole lot more. It’s the tradition, the friends, the families and enjoyment of the outdoors that brings us back to our deer camps of many forms. They can range from the backyard to the old school bus at that far away county or you name it. When it comes to deer camp, it’s thus much more than about just killing a deer or breaking a new state record on an annualized basis.