Buck Harvest Down 25%
Preliminary data compiled by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources indicate that deer hunters in West Virginia harvested 72,693 bucks during the two-week buck season, which ran from November 24 through December 6. The 2003 buck harvest was down 25% from the 2002 harvest of 96,555. The top ten counties were as follows: Hampshire (2,694), Preston (2,539), Hardy (2,517), Mason (2,298), Ritchie (2,280), Greenbrier (2,248), Pendleton (2,153), Jackson (2,123), Randolph (2,043) and Lewis (2,033).
“Wildlife Biologists had predicted an overall decrease in the buck harvest this year, and we were hoping hunters would continue to take advantage of the opportunity to harvest antlerless deer during the concurrent buck and antlerless deer season,” noted Division of Natural Resources Director Ed Hamrick . “It appears that these harvest forecasts were correct, as the buck harvest dropped 25% while the antlerless deer harvest for the same 2 weeks declined only 14% from last year's figures.” The antlerless deer harvest during the 2003 concurrent 2-week buck season was 47,064 compared to 54,379 in 2002.
The decrease in this year's buck kill is related to a number of factors, including the success of an overall herd reduction effort that has been targeted for the past several years in counties exceeding their population objectives as defined in the Division of Natural Resources' White-tailed Deer Operational Plan . In addition, the winter storm that swept the state on the opening day of the 2003 buck season contributed in part to the decreased buck and antlerless harvest. “Hunters just quit hunting when the wind, rain, sleet and snow blanketed the state on opening day,” said Hamrick. Reduced hunting pressure on opening day can be quite significant, as the harvest on the first day of season normally accounts for 38% of the total buck harvest.
Harvesting appropriate numbers of female deer during the hunting season is the most effective method for managing deer populations. In an effort to ensure that healthy deer populations are maintained at biologically sustainable levels, antlerless deer hunting opportunities were liberalized this year in many counties. Antlerless deer hunting opportunities were provided in a total of 51 counties, or portions thereof, on private land during the full 2-week buck season. In addition, the season bag limit for antlerless deer was increased to 4 in selected counties.
Hamrick reminds hunters that the traditional six-day antlerless deer season will run from December 8-13 in selected counties on both public and private land. In addition, four days in late December (December 24-27) will be open to antlerless deer hunting on private land in selected counties.
“The Division of Natural Resources is promoting the last full week in December as a Family Antlerless Deer Hunt ,” Hamrick said. This week will include the second split of the Youth and Class Q Antlerless Deer Season (December 22-23) and the expanded antlerless deer season on private land in selected counties (December 24-27). “The Family Antlerless Deer Hunt will allow for greater hunter participation during a period of the year when many family members are home for Christmas vacation,” Hamrick noted. Hunters should check the 2003-2004 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Brochure for additional information about these enhanced hunting opportunities.
Wildlife biologists and managers collected biological data on bucks and antlerless deer during the first three days of the buck season at check stations in selected counties. This information, when compiled and analyzed, will provide important insight into the overall physical condition of the state's deer population and aid biologists in making recommendations for the 2004 deer seasons. The deer examined at check stations appeared to be in fairly good physical condition throughout most of the state despite poor acorn production.
“Hunters reported seeing fewer deer this year, and this is an indication that our harvest strategy is working,” said Hamrick. “Based upon field reports and surveys, we also know some fawn deer were lost to winter kill last year, especially at higher elevations. When deer populations exceed their food supply and the capacity of the habitat to support in a sustainable fashion, Mother Nature has a way of reducing the population.
“Many counties are still carrying too many deer for the habitat to sustain, and the harvest of appropriate numbers of antlerless deer will be the key to reducing deer populations to desired management levels,” Hamrick noted. “Reducing deer populations, where necessary to meet management objectives, will result in healthier deer, improved antler development and greater body weights.”