Fewer deer roaming the West Virginia landscape

January 11, 2004|by Bill Anderson

The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has released the harvest totals for the various deer seasons - bow, muzzleloader, bucks and antlerless. Another relatively new category is the youth (Class Q) season.

At first glance the total is quite impressive - 204,650 deer. But a closer examination of the numbers leads to one very obvious conclusion: the number of deer in the state has been reduced considerably over the past few years. For example, in 2002, the combined harvest total was 265,356 deer. This is a significant decrease. It is also worth noting that this is what the DNR has been saying they wanted to accomplish.

Even after you factor in things such as weather and a failed mast drop, the numbers indicate that the overall deer herd was much smaller this past fall. Each of the major seasons - bow, buck and antlerless - was down from last season, and, after years of steady growth, the deer herd seems to be a lot smaller than two or three years ago.


The following is a brief summary of the seasons:

  • Antlered Bucks: The total harvest total for antlered deer was 72,658. For comparison purposes, the total in 2002 was 96,555, in 2001 it was 99,375, in 2000 it was 88,677 and it was 90,105 in 1999.

    The drop is substantial and, in many respects, predictable. When you initiate an aggressive antlerless harvest program you will also take a lot of the young bucks. Many of the antlerless deer legally bagged are first-year (button) bucks. They will obviously not be there to be taken as part of the antlered buck harvest the next fall when they would be 18 months old.

    Another factor is that many hunters really aren't that worried about the sex of the deer they tag, and they now take advantage of the concurrent hunting for antlerless deer.

    Several of my friends took a doe during the concurrent bucks hunting season, and they then did not hunt for antlered deer, holding out for a nice buck only.

    One friend told me he is just as pleased with a mature doe and he is with an 18-month-old buck with a tiny rack. Wildlife managers would find that music to their ears.

  • Antlerless Season: The total antlerless harvest in 2003 was 83,456 deer. That is 13 percent higher than the bucks harvest in 2003.

    West Virginia hunters had 22 days to hunt antlerless deer, and the DNR seems very pleased with the results. It appears that liberal antlerless hunting opportunities will continue. But the total was well below the total in 2002 (104,199).

    In 2001 the total was 69,079; in 2000 it was 63,987 and in 1999 it was 93,879.

  • Bow Season: The bow kill was 30,243 deer, 10 percent below last year and well below the 5-year average, which is 33,370.

    Top counties were: Preston 1,286; Randolph 1,238; Nicholas 1,108; and Greenbrier 1,033.

  • Muzzleloader Season: The muzzleloader kill of 15,853 was also down by 10 percent from 2002's total of 17,458.

    This late season is also affected a great deal by weather, as you can see from the following: 1999, 13,295; 2000, 9,528; 2001, 14,189; and 2002, 17,458.

  • Class Q (Youth Season): The 2003 total was 2,440 deer, down from the 2002 total of 3,874.

To really evaluate data such as this, you have to look at long-term trends and also look for events such as snowstorms or other bad weather that would really change the numbers.

But the data in this case does seem to point out one obvious fact: The West Virginia deer herd is smaller than it once was.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. Reach him by e-mail at

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