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WV buck season starts slowly, gains momentum

By JOHN McCOY

Charleston Gazette-Mail

APPLE GROVE, W.Va.  — For 12-year-old Blake Edmonds, the opening day of West Virginia’s 2017 firearm season for buck deer went much like it did for thousands of hunters.

Edmonds went out on a cold, crisp morning, watched a few deer pass near his stand, and when a nice six-pointer came along, he dropped it with a 150-yard rifle shot. It was his first buck.

“I was excited,” he said.

Kevin Underwood, left, looks over the doe that he shot on the first day of gun season in West Virginia as Bob Wriston removes it from the bed of his truck. Underwood, who shot the deer near Mill Creek in Fayette County, was bringing it to be cut at the Chop Shop in Oak Hill.
(Gazette-Mail photo by F. Brian Ferguson)

Edmonds’ experience seemed to be typical for thousands of the Mountain State’s whitetail hunters. They saw deer — perhaps not as many as expected, but enough to fill their tags and take home some venison.

Kem Shaw, a Division of Natural Resources biologist conducting age checks on hunters’ kills, said the day started slowly. By 11:30 a.m., he and his assistant had checked just nine animals.

“It was a little slow early in the morning,” he said. “We were sort of expecting that. We had a really good acorn crop this year, and that has made deer a little more difficult for hunters to locate. There are plenty of deer, but they aren’t coming out into the fields. Most of them are way back in the woods, eating acorns.”

In West Virginia, it is legal to bait deer with corn and other foods. Shaw said that in a normal year, he sees a few deer that still have corn kernels in their mouths.

“We’re not seeing as much of that this year,” he said. As if to prove Shaw’s statement, his assistant, Heath Miles, had to clear ground-up acorns out of a buck’s mouth to check the amount of wear on the animal’s teeth.

Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief, said he logged onto the state’s electronic game-checking system at 2:30 p.m.

“At that time, statewide, we’d had a little more than 5,500 bucks checked in, and about 1,200 antlerless deer,” he added. “I’m not sure how that compares with last year’s harvest at the same time of day. Overall, I think this is going to be a good buck season. We sure couldn’t have asked for better weather.”

Shaw said the action at his station picked up between late morning and early afternoon. By 3 p.m., he and Miles had checked 27 deer. Most of them, he said, were at least 2 ½ years of age, with a few 3 ½- and 4 ½-year-olds thrown in for good measure.

“A few years back, 90 percent of the deer we checked were 1 ½-year-old bucks,” he added. “Now the average deer we check is 2 ½ years old, or maybe even a little older than that. Hunters are becoming more selective about the bucks they kill. They’re passing up the little ones in favor of those with better [antler] racks.”

Shaw believes hunters’ selectivity also played into the slow start.

“I think we’ll see a lot more deer come in [Tuesday] morning, when hunters who passed on small bucks today decide to take a doe or a younger buck just to make sure they put some meat in the freezer,” he said.

Biologist Dave McClung, manning a station near Point Pleasant, said he was seeing the same things as Shaw.

“It’s been a little slow here, too,” he said. “But I’m sure action will pick up [Monday] evening and [Tuesday] morning. Most of the deer we’re checking here are older deer, and some of them have pretty nice racks.”

McClung attributed at least part of the slow action to hunters’ not knowing to bring their deer into the DNR’s checking stations. “Since we went to electronic checking, everyone is doing that,” he said. “Most hunters probably aren’t even aware that we’re conducting age checks on deer in a couple of counties.”

Hunters in Mason and Upshur counties were asked to revert to the prior practice of bringing their deer in to have their antlers measured and their ages determined. The DNR published the request in the state’s hunting-regulations pamphlet and posted notices in local newspapers, but agency officials aren’t sure how much compliance they got on opening day.

Even many of the successful hunters thought the action was a bit slow. Trent Roush, of Mason, said he heard fewer shots than usual near his stand in southern Mason County.

“Very few, in fact. And on a perfect day,” he added. “This is the best [opening-day] weather I can remember. I saw a doe and a four-point buck before my eight-pointer came along.”

Walter Smith, who also bagged an eight-pointer, said he saw just two deer. What surprised him about them was they were still engaged in mating activity, which usually peaks in early November.

“The rut apparently isn’t over yet,” said Smith, who lives in Gallipolis Ferry. “I was watching a doe. She spooked a little and [snorted]. This buck came right in behind her, nose to the ground, and gave me a 30-yard shot. I lucked out; I was done by 9:03 a.m.”

The 12-day season will end on Dec. 2. DNR officials expect roughly 60 percent of the kill to take place before Thanksgiving Day.

Reach John McCoy at [email protected], 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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