Deer Hunters Harvest 64,547 Bucks

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A preliminary count of deer registered at game checking stations across the state indicates that deer hunters in West Virginia harvested 64,547 bucks during the two-week buck season, which ran from November 22 through December 4, according to Ed Hamrick, Director of the Division of Natural Resources. The 2004 buck harvest was down 12 percent from the 2003 harvest of 73,128. The top ten counties were as follows: Roane (2,477), Hampshire (2,336), Mason (2,315), Jackson (2,082), Hardy (2,046), Preston (2,017), Ritchie (1983), Tyler (1963), Wetzel (1943), and Wood (1,855).

“Wildlife Biologists had predicted an increase in the buck harvest this year, but larger than expected population declines in response to the record antlerless harvest of 2002, three previous years of poor acorn production, and inclement weather conditions in some regions of the state during the first three days of season may have contributed to the missed forecast,” Hamrick said. “Antlerless harvest for the same 2 weeks declined 10 percent from last year's figures and later tallies of the number of Class N licenses sold will determine if this decline indicates a decline in hunters or a decrease of antlerless deer.” The antlerless deer harvest during the 2004 concurrent 2-week buck season was 42,537 compared to 47,064 in 2003.

The decrease in this year's buck kill is related to the success of an overall deer herd reduction in counties exceeding their population objectives, which are explained in the Division of Natural Resources' White-tailed Deer Operational Plan. In 2003, the deer population exceeded desired population levels in 27 counties, which represented 40 percent of the deer habitat in the state. The preliminary data of 2004 indicate deer populations exceeded objectives in 22 counties or 29 percent of the deer habitat in the state. “Progress is being made in balancing our state's deer herd,” according to Curtis I. Taylor, Chief of the Wildlife Resources Section. “We will analyze this year's buck, antlerless, bow and muzzleloader harvest information for each county in the upcoming months before making recommendations for next year's deer season.”

The harvest of antlerless deer is the key to healthier and heavier deer herds. This is because there are natural limits to the number of deer the land can support. When these natural limits are exceeded, deer body weights, reproductive rates, antler development, and herd health declines, including an increased likelihood that deer will die over winter.

If deer exceed natural limits long enough, habitat quality is reduced, producing a long-term reduction in the natural limit of deer the land can support. Hunters and landowners can avoid these problems by participating and encouraging a reasonable antlerless deer harvest.

Hamrick reminds hunters that the traditional six-day antlerless deer season in selected counties on both public and private land ends December 11. The Youth and Class Q antlerless season will open on Monday and Tuesday December 27 and 28 and will be followed by a three-day reopening of antlerless deer season (December 29-31) on private land in selected counties. Muzzleloader deer season begins December 13 and runs through December 18.