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Deer hunters gear up for annual rifle season

November 20, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - West Virginia's two-week, bucks-only gun hunting season begins today and state wildlife officials are predicting a slightly higher deer kill this year, given an abundance of food for the animals.

Most regions have good acorn crops, which means deer will be widely distributed and less visible in open fields, according to the state Division of Natural Resources.

Although deer will move into lower elevations for food like apples - a common crop in the Eastern Panhandle - acorns are a more nutritional food source for deer, said Dick Pharr, owner of Spark's Sport Center in Martinsburg.

Acorns are produced by oak trees, which are plentiful in mountainous areas to the west.

At Pharr's shop Sunday, dozens of hunters streamed into the store to take advantage of his special hours. They checked out supplies like ammunition and gun scopes or adjusted their sights at the shop's shooting facilities.

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Predictions that it might be tougher to spot deer in fields this year didn't dampen Buck Runion's enthusiasm for the start of deer season.

Runion said he typically hunts in fields and orchards in the Gerrardstown, W.Va., area and it has been "awesome" in recent years.

Deer in Berkeley and Jefferson counties typically grow very large after being able to feast in apple orchards and corn fields, and Runion said he usually puts out more food to attract them.

"We feed them and they feed us," said Runion, who killed two bucks in one day last year.

Although hunters say success in mountainous areas to the west of Morgan County can be spotty if acorns are not plentiful, Justin McGraw said his 65-acre hunting getaway in Hampshire County has been producing "very wealthy" results in recent years.

Last year, McGraw said he killed three bucks, the maximum allowed, and two does.

"It was a pretty good year, I'd say," said McGraw, 21, of Martinsburg.

McGraw said deer in the mountainous areas are not as large as the ones in Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Calling them "urban bucks," McGraw said deer in the local areas can feed in farm fields all day and often no one can hunt them because of trespassing restrictions.

Even though deer locally are bigger, the mountains are where McGraw wants to be. McGraw said he prefers the setting because there are no houses to contend with or noisy highways and traffic.

"It's just you and the woods," McGraw said.

Pharr agrees with state wildlife officials that this year's deer season could be very successful.

In addition to a good food supply, the deer "rut," a period of sexual excitement, has been very strong in recent days, Pharr said.

"The deer are running like crazy, chasing does," Pharr said, adding that the situation can prove dangerous for motorists who sometimes cross paths with deer on local roads.

Pharr is estimating that if the weather stays ideal, about 100 deer could be checked in at his shop today. Last year, 103 deer where checked into Sparks Sports Center, which was considered to be a good number, store workers said.

Statewide last year, 56,901 bucks were killed during buck season, the DNR said.

A concurrent doe hunting season is allowed in 37 counties on private land only.

Deer hunting is big business in the state. The sport generates an annual economic impact of $233 million, much of it in the rural part of the state, according to the DNR.

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