West Virginia’s annual firearm season for buck deer opened on Monday under cold, clear and calm skies, and hunters wasted no time taking advantage of the near-ideal conditions.

“If I had to draw an opening day of buck season up, I’d be hard pressed to come up with anything better than this morning,” said Paul Johansen, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. “We had a skiff of snow on the ground in some of the state’s higher elevations, which made for ideal hunting conditions. Throughout the state, it shaped up to be a great opening day, weather-wise.”

Roughly half of the annual firearm buck kill takes place during the season’s first three days. Johansen said that if bad weather doesn’t keep hunters out of the woods, the heaviest kill occurs on opening day and it tapers off after that.

By mid-afternoon on Monday, hunters using the state’s electronic game-checking system had registered more than 5,000 whitetails. Johansen expected the total to rise sharply before the day ended.

“We always see a sharp uptick toward the end of the day, when hunters come out of the woods and head for their camps or head home,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the opening-day harvest comes in at 15,000 or more.”

With the ideal hunting conditions, many hunters killed their deer and were out of the woods by late morning. Tom Mullins, a Charleston resident who killed a doe in Putnam County, said he heard “a lot of shooting” just after daybreak.

“Just about all the shots came between 7:15 and 8:15, then it quieted down,” he said. “My hunting time is very limited, so I took the first deer that came along.”

Hunting antlerless deer is legal during the buck season in certain counties, provided hunters have purchased valid antlerless-deer permits before the season began.

Wayne Fisher said he and his grandfather, Roger Patton, heard between 10 and 15 shots while they were in the woods. Fisher killed a seven-point buck and Patton killed a young “spike” buck. Fisher said both the bucks were chasing a doe.

Division of Natural Resources officials predicted that hunters would see plenty of mating-related activity. Johansen said this year’s opening day happened to fall near the peak of the whitetail “rut,” or mating season.

Bucks preoccupied with mating tend to lose some of their inherent wariness, and that makes them more vulnerable to hunters. Steve Keffer of Huntington was happy they were. Early on opening morning, a nice 10-point buck wandered into his sights.

“I saw three does before I saw the buck,” he said. “It’s a pretty nice buck. I’m planning to have it mounted.”

Hunting in Braxton County, Randall Lacey was happy to be out of the woods early. A week earlier, he had dropped a propane tank on his foot and crushed a few toes. Wearing a walking boot, he bagged the first deer he saw — a seven-point buck.

“It was a relief to be finished so quickly,” said the Lincoln County resident.

Despite a good red-oak acorn crop that threatened to scatter deer widely and make them more difficult to hunt, a few hunters reported seeing good numbers of whitetails.

“I saw about eight does before I saw a buck,” said Donald White of Sissonville. “The seven-pointer I killed wasn’t chasing the does, though. He came through later, just floating along by himself.”

Elbert Taylor of St. Albans said he and his two hunting buddies saw seven whitetails and got two of them — a seven-pointer and a button buck.

“Apart from that, there wasn’t a huge amount of activity,” he added.

Weather forecasts call for good hunting conditions to prevail through the wee hours of Wednesday morning, when rain showers are predicted. If the forecasts hold, those showers should blow through by noon on Wednesday and allow hunters to hunt the rest of the day in comfortable conditions.

“If the forecast holds, I think we’re in for a good season,” Johansen said. “I think the harvest will comfortably reach the 40,000-to-45,000 range.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.