Monday is the opening day for West Virginia's annual deer buck gun season. Some people consider this the best day of the year. I know since I started deer hunting in 1963 I have always looked forward to the buck season.
How well I remember the first day I went deer hunting. It was on a Saturday when the season was only six days long. Dad permitted me to take his deer rifle down to the McClintic Wildlife Management Area in Mason County. When I started hunting, I said to myself, "Well now, here I am hunting a game animal that I have never seen in the wild." When I quit hunting that day, chances are I was never within a mile of an antlered deer.
That year, there were only 46 bucks taken in Mason County. The statewide buck gun harvest was 7,609. The bow kill for the entire state was 119. The total deer harvest for the state was 7,728. My, how things have improved.
In the early 1700s, the European settlers of North America started moving westward. The area of what is now West Virginia was nearly 100 percent forested land, and it was primarily the hunting grounds of the Cherokee, Delaware, Kanawha, Mingo and Shawnee Indians. Deer were plentiful. Market hunting flourished, and in 1763, deer hides sold for 18 pence per pound. In the first half of the 19th century, deer market hunting continued to flourish, but local scarcities were being reported as early as 1840.
After the Civil War, the massive timber-cutting era began. This, along with unlimited deer market hunting and unlimited use of dogs, caused the whitetail deer numbers to rapidly decline. In 1910, the state's estimated deer population was about 1,000 animals located in pockets of Pocahontas and Randolph counties, and the counties that make up the lower Eastern Panhandle.
In 1909, the first legislation on deer was passed prohibiting the sale and/or shipment of game from the state. It would also be unlawful to kill a doe or female deer.
In the 1920s, organizations started purchasing and releasing deer. The numbers were increasing; but some mistakes were made, and the improvement was slow, largely due to the lack of wildlife management technology that we have today.
In 1923, the state opened its first deer season in selected areas and counties. Sixty deer were taken. The next deer hunting season was in 1927 when 162 animals were harvested.
The big break came in 1937 for the deer management program when the state was able to get federal monies from taxes taken in from the Robertson-Pittman Act. The deer numbers continued to increase, and in 1951, West Virginia was able to have its first hunter's choice season (where a hunter could take a buck or doe) in select counties. The deer harvest for that season was 21,951.
In 1965, all 55 counties were open for bow hunting and the gun season was for two weeks starting on Monday of Thanksgiving week. In 1965 through 1967, the Department of Natural Resources held hunter's choice seasons in select counties but began to realize that they were having too much overkill of female deer with this setup. From 1968 through 1973, the gun season was bucks only. The total deer harvest for the 1973 season was 24,179. This was higher than any year in the past even when the state had hunter's choice seasons.
In 1974, the Legislature approved a Class N special anterless deer license. This was for a two-day post-season anterless hunt in limited numbers in Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton and Tucker counties. The individual hunter had to apply during the summer months and was selected by the DNR computers.
In 1978, the DNR started having a muzzleloading season with flintlock rifles. This changed in 1983, permitting the use of cap and ball firearms in addition to flintlocks.
In the 1980s, the deer herd was rapidly increasing in the central counties and the counties adjoining the Ohio River. In 2002, hunters harvested 255,356 deer statewide. This record still stands.
We all know the harvest numbers have declined in the past five years, and I think it is due to the unexpected problems we are now experiencing with coyotes. This year, however, I am seeing more deer than I have seen in the past two or three years.
The weather will be a major factor, but we should have a good increase this year over the 145,937 deer taken in 2007. I would like to wish everyone the best of luck when they go after that big buck and have a safe hunt.