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Deer harvest numbers were down in WV

February 13, 2019

Our WVDNR published its annual deer harvest numbers for the Fall 2018 through January. Hunters in West Virginia registered 108,856 white-tailed deer through the electronic game checking system during the recently completed buck firearms, antlerless, muzzle-loader, archery, crossbow, youth/Class Q/Class XS and Mountaineer Heritage seasons.

The total harvest was within 1 percent of the 2017 deer harvest of 108,160 and 11 percent below the five-year average of 122,924, said Paul Johansen, chief of the Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Section.A deeper look into the numbers revealed of the combined 2018 deer seasons reveals 44,599 bucks were harvested during the traditional buck firearm season, 32,751 antlerless deer were taken during all antlerless firearm hunting opportunities, 26,613 deer were harvested by bows and crossbows in the urban and regular archery/crossbow seasons, 4,234 deer were taken in the muzzleloader season and 659 deer were taken with primitive bow and muzzleloader weapons in the Mountaineer Heritage season.

So, the numbers appear to be down. That’s the thing about numbers, you can look at them several ways through various lenses and there are always factors outside of those numbers — always.

As a reference, let’s take a look back at the numbers from 2002. (a very high harvest year) In 2002, the traditional bucks-only firearm season harvest of antlered bucks was 96,555. That is six percent less than the record harvest of 102,484 in 1997. A total of 104,199 antlerless deer were taken in antlerless season. The 2002 antlerless season harvest was the highest on record and 11 percent more than the record antlerless harvest of 93,879 recorded in 1999.

The 2002 archery season harvest of 37,144 increased seven percent from that of the 2001 archery season and was a new record. The 2002 muzzleloader season harvest was 17,458, an increase of 23 percent from 2001, and the second-highest harvest recorded for this season.

So, the rough math shows us that we harvested around 108,000 deer last season compared to more than 250,000 deer back in 2002. I’m not even certain that comparing the two dates is even fair. It might be too extreme on the high end.

Having said that, there were a couple of years in the recent past that the total harvest numbers were below 108,000. (exceptionally abundant acorns years, for example)

I’m not a trained biologist or professional game manager, I am simply someone who has hunted whitetails in West Virginia every season for the past 35 years and someone who is hearing the chatter at the barbershop, hardware store and through the clothesline about why this past season’s numbers might have been down.

The comments I’m hearing regarding deer hunting here at home can be broken down into three categories: 1. There appear to be fewer hunters in the woods in certain areas of the state. 2. There appear to be fewer deer in the woods in certain areas of the state. 3. Some people are managing their property for game and only harvesting the mature animals and letting the others grow, thus harvesting fewer deer.

Again, I don’t know the answers but I know the WVDNR wants to hear from us. In fact, our WVDNR is asking for our involvement and will hold 12 public meetings across the state on March 11 and 12 to gather input on fall 2019 antlerless deer hunting opportunity recommendations to increase, decrease or stabilize deer populations in each of the 51 counties where firearms deer hunting is permitted.

I commend our DNR for their efforts to hear the voices of sportsmen and women of our state. This is a great opportunity to tell them what you are hearing and seeing from your neck of the West Virginia woods.

Chris Ellis of Fayetteville, West Virginia, an outdoors-man and Marshall University graduate, Is owner of Ellis Communications, a public relations agency serving the outdoor Industry. Contact him at chrls@elllscom.net.

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