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Antlerless

With acorns relatively scarce, state wildlife officials expect deer to move out of the woods and into field edges, where they will be more easily available to hunters.

CHARLESTON — When hunters head into the woods for West Virginia’s early firearm season for antlerless deer, there’s a good chance they’ll have more success than they did last year.

Truth be told, it would be hard to have less.

Hunters killed just 2,772 whitetails during 2019’s four-day season, the lowest total since the season debuted in 2012. That’s 40% below the eight-year average of 4,610.

Wildlife officials think things will be better during this year’s season, which opens Oct. 22. Gary Foster, deputy wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said if the weather is good — particularly on Oct. 23-24 — hunters should enjoy more success.

“Any time you have a relatively short season, such as the Thursday-through-Sunday October antlerless season, bad weather can have a negative impact, particularly if the bad weather falls on Friday and Saturday,” Foster added.

“Historically, what we have seen in October is warm weather, sometimes with daytime temperatures up into the 80s; or rain. Neither of those are good for hunter participation.

“When it’s warm, a lot of hunters stay home because they know they’ll have other chances later in the year when the weather is cooler. And when it rains, hardly anybody wants to go hunting.”

Two other factors may have played a role in last year’s lack of success, Foster said. The acorn crop was fairly good, which scattered deer widely throughout the forest and made their movements more difficult to predict. At the same time, an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease caused localized deer die-offs in several counties.

Neither should be a factor this year. Of all the oak species, only red/black oak and scarlet oak acorns are relatively abundant. White oak, chestnut oak and scrub oak are far less abundant.

The lack of oak mast — particularly white oak — should concentrate deer in areas of relative abundance, or drive them to hunters’ corn feeders.

Foster said hunters who would like a more detailed view on this year’s mast crop should consult the DNR’s 2020 Mast Survey and Hunter Outlook publication, which can be found on the agency’s website, www.wvdnr.gov.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might also play into this year’s October antlerless-deer harvest.

“COVID seems to be having a positive effect on hunting participation,” Foster said. “Most states across the country are seeing that.”

So too, apparently, is West Virginia.

“This fall, [antlerless-deer] license sales through the end of September were running about 4,000 higher than they were at the same time last year,” Foster said. “We’re also seeing an increase in [extra-buck] license sales. Hunters seem to want to take additional deer this year.

“That’s a good sign. Hunter participation is key to a good harvest. I think our antlerless harvest could bounce back this year.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.