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Deer harvest shows another decrease

The leave of absence I had to take from this “Outdoor Column” was longer than expected due to complications that occurred after surgery on Nov. 6, 2019. I had to have two additional surgeries in December and ended up being in a recovery rehabilitation center for nearly three months.

This past Monday, I got a copy of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Big Game Bulletin for 2019. There was a nice increase (19 percent) in black bear from the bear harvest in 2018. The total wild turkey harvest (spring gobbler and fall) was down to 8.7 percent. The total wild boar harvest was 88. This was down from the 137 total wild boar harvest in 2018.

The total white-tailed deer harvest for 2019 was 99,437. This is a 9 percent decrease from the 108,856 total harvest in 2018. The last time the statewide total deer harvest was below 100,000 animals was back in 1985, or more than 30 years ago.

Even with this decrease, the 2019 total deer harvest was the 35th largest on record in West Virginia. The record deer harvest year was in 2002 when sportsmen and women took 255,356 white-tails.

The 2019 traditional two-week buck-only gun season harvest was 36,472. This is an 18 percent decrease from the 2018 harvest of 44,599. With this sharp decrease, there were still nine counties that had increases over their 2018 buck harvests. Five of these nine counties are located along the Ohio River, where there are large concentrations of deer.

The statewide archery (bow/crossbow) harvest was 29,537. This was an 11 percent increase over the 2018 harvest of 26,636. It is also the 11th highest on record and 10 percent above the five-year average of 26,837.

The 2019 muzzleloader harvest was 5,092. This is almost a 5 percent increase from the 2018 harvest of 4,870. The 2019 muzzleloader harvest includes 570 deer that were taken with side lock or flintlock muzzleloaders during the Mountaineer Heritage season held in January 2020.

The antlerless deer harvest was 28,336. This is down 13.5 from the 2018 harvest of 32,751. To some extent, this was expected. The harvest of antlerless deer the leading factor to healthier and more reproductive deer. There are natural limits to the number of deer any tract of acreage can support and it is not always the same every year.

This past week, I have talked to several of my friends that includes some who don’t hunt. All of the individuals agree that the one reason why the harvest has decreased is because there are less hunters going after the deer than there were 20 to 25 years ago.

It is a well-known fact there are not enough youth hunters replacing the senior hunters who are retiring from this noble sport for one reason or another. This is not only a problem in West Virginia, but nationwide as well.

Some of my hunting friends are telling me that the mast distribution was very uneven in this area last year. I am somewhat in agreement with this. During the little bit of squirrel hunting I did in October, I saw some acorns, but very little of anything else in the way of mast. Large amounts of acorns are great for deer and wild turkeys, but they are nowhere near to being a squirrel’s favorite food.

Other factors that need to be taken into consideration for the decline in the total deer harvest is the way people are hunting. For example, when I started deer hunting in this area in 1972; there were very few people who would hunt from a tree stand. Today, the number of hunters who chose to hunt from a tree stand is approximately 50 percent. This means there are less hunters moving the deer around. When hunters hunt from a stand, they will have absolutely no freedom of movement.

Another hunter says, “There is a lot more posted acreage now than what there was 20 to 30 years ago from all of the hunting clubs that have acreage leased out.” The rules from each club vary considerably. Some clubs forbid any member to take a buck that is less than six points. This means that young bucks, like spike or three to five point, will not be harvested.

I say the deer are out there. The increases from the archery/crossbow and muzzleloader seasons clearly indicate this. However, some of the fewer younger hunters don’t want to venture very far from their vehicles, nothing like one to two miles. I would do this when I started deer hunting in 1963.

The 2019 Big Game Bulletin can be brought up on-line at www.wvdnr.gov. From there, go to a search mode and type in “The 2019 Big Game Bulletin.”

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