Ah, remember those good old days of record gun buck seasons. It was just back in 1997 when the Mountain State’s traditional “rifle season” hunters checked in over 102,000 antlered ones.
WVDNR’s vintage Strategic Plan prescribed for annual gun buck kills of 90,000 for the year 2000 and beyond.
No problem, right? Now fast forward to 2010 and its jaw dropping kill of only 43, 46.
Ouch, that’s less than half that strategic goal.
Likewise, kills of the past five years have averaged a third less at 60,000.
These variations in deer numbers and hunter success have made for kind of a wild ride. So what’s going on out there?
For starters, it’s never been the current goal to break new records every year.
Admittedly, it was kind of a fun ride while it was happening mostly back in the 1980s and early 1990s while the West Virginia counties saturated with deer from top to bottom.
But the wildlife cup eventually runs over and Mother Nature steps in to restore some balance.
And therein lays the principal cause of this wild ride of sorts, Mother Nature.
Some of the specifics attributable to her should quickly ring some bells.
How about coyotes for starters?
How many do we have now versus 20 years ago?
The answer is plenty.
Same goes for black bears.
Bobcats are thriving too and all these top food chain predators like venison.
It’s also no wonder that mountain lions are now turning up in Missouri, Michigan, New England and many folks believe the once native big cats are already here or soon will be.
Now throw in some three-letter word diseases like EHD and CWD.
The Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease hit here pretty hard a few years back killing enough deer to stink up the summer hills of Mingo County per one reader. Chronic Wasting Disease is creeping about our Eastern Panhandle and has recently being documented in both Maryland and Pennsylvania for the first time.
Winters had become a thing of the past but a few doozies of late have been deer killers, especially when preceded by mast failure, the latter which had occurred several years in succession just a few years back.
On the other hand, abundant mast can spread the deer thinly over the vast mountain ranges making them extremely difficult for hunters to bag.
That factor likely contributed to the poor kill of 2010 and may have some impact this year as well.
Rainy weather on key hunting days can also contribute to dampen a given year’s kill.
And let’s not forget the heavy yet important culling effects of the hunter.
And remember over most of the state, the former “bucks only” gun season is now any deer with the proper tags. As a result, many hunters are now bagging antlerless deer instead of antlered ones, contributing to the drop in the traditional gun buck kill numbers.
Under the current concepts of quality versus quantity which is good for both the herds and their habitats in the long run, we’ve stated repeatedly here that the old goal of a 90,000 buck kill would represent overpopulation.
DNR’s new deer management plan is much more technology and habitat savvy and therefore realistic.
Former deer density goals for many a county were simply unattainable.
By today’s standards, the harvest of around 60,000 seems just about right where the new management plan is headed.
No state deer herd is free of problems. But West Virginia’s is likely at modern highs in distribution and quality.
Just imagine the pickle it would be in without you, the hunter and your continuing role in its funding and management.
So just follow the regulations for this grand game species and enjoy the ride.
Both Mother Nature and her amazing white-tailed ones are sure to have a few more tricks up their sleeves.