Numbers are down in W.Va.

January 16, 2005|by BILL ANDERSON

The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has totaled the 2004 deer kill and released the preliminary totals.

The harvest numbers suffered a heavy decline in each season - antlered firearms, antlerless, bow and muzzleloader.

Many factors figure into a deer harvest, with weather having a major effect on key days of the season. But when the totals are down fairly dramatically in every season, there is an obvious message.

But first, the totals.

The total buck kill for the two-week season was 65,852. This is down 12 percent from last year, and the year-to-year trend is striking. For reference, the totals for the past five seasons are: 2004 - 64,547; 2003 - 73,128; 2002 - 96,555; 2001 - 99,375 and 2000 - 88,677. The drop from 99,375 in 2001 to 64,547 in 2004 has many hunters very concerned, as they should be.

The antlerless deer kill was 71,741, which was 11 percent below the 2003 total. But the DNR points out that "as a management tool" the total was still nine percent higher than the buck kill. I predict that this metric will be lost on many of the state's deer hunters.


The bow kill in 2004 was 26,540 deer - 11 percent below the 2003 harvest total and the 12th highest bow harvest on record. Since the bow season is so long in duration and the weather and other hunting factors so varied, I believe that this season, more than any other, is confirmation that there are significantly fewer deer in the state than in previous years.

The muzzleloader harvest was down nine percent from 2003 and is the fifth highest kill total on record. This is the only season that did not see a double-digit decline, but it was obviously close.

The DNR defended the state's antlerless deer harvest program, pointing out that they will continue to recommend appropriate antlerless deer harvests within the agency's overall management plan.

The numbers from this past season show very clearly that the state's deer herd has been reduced substantially. Different people will have very different views on whether this is a good or bad thing. Many farmers, orchard owners and auto insurance companies will be happy to learn the deer population is down. Hunters and those that are involved in the business aspects of deer and deer hunting will likely have a different point of view.

It's also important to note that with a total harvest this past season of nearly 179,000 deer, West Virginia still has a lot of deer, and will continue to have a lot of deer hunting opportunities.

The DNR has the job of explaining the numbers, the trends and basically selling its position and management approach to the public.

The regulation meetings this spring should be interesting.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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