West Virginia 2009 Hunting Calendar
September 29, 2010
These six premium picks will put you in the thick of good hunting this season for doves, deer, ruffed grouse and more. Read on! (August 2009)
A mention of the Mountain State invokes images of rugged, forested mountains, and the opportunities such places provide the outdoor enthusiast. Indeed, West Virginia has more than its share of wooded ridges, areas where white-tailed deer and an ever-expanding black bear population thrive in.
But there is so much more in our state. There are river bottoms and farmlands with brushy cover that provide homes for cottontails and mourning doves. Meandering streams, large rivers and reservoirs all see flights of ducks and geese throughout much of the fall and winter. Select areas with the proper new growth habitat give ruffed grouse what they need to flourish.
Keeping tabs on all of this can be a challenge. We wouldn't want you to miss out on any potential hunting trips. So, we present this year's "Hunting Calendar," a look at six hunts across the state that gives a sampling of what West Virginia has to offer.
McClintic WMA Mourning Doves
Despite opportunities to shoot woodchucks throughout the summer, and a plethora of early fall hunts aimed at reducing nuisance Canada goose numbers, the official kick-off of hunting season comes with the opening of dove season. And so it is in West Virginia. One of the best public areas to hunt doves on public land is the McClintic Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
McClintic WMA is located in Mason County near Point Pleasant. The WMA's 3,535 acres contain some of the most diverse blends of habitat of any state-owned land. Farmland, brush land, wetland and areas of mature timber are all found at McClintic. The WMA also features tracts specifically managed for doves.
McClintic is set up with numerous dove fields ranging in size from about 2 to 10 acres. The doves have a tendency to zero in on two or three of the fields. A variety of grains are planted at McClintic, including buckwheat and winter wheat. Typically, edges of fields are mowed before hunting seasons to assist hunters in finding downed birds. Fields are strip mowed and disked.
Weather can influence the success rates of a McClintic dove hunt. Warmer, more stable weather tends to keep the birds at hand, while a severe cold front can have them on the wing heading south.
As one might expect of a public area that provides excellent dove-shooting potential, hunting pressure can be high. Weekday hunters might well experience a higher quality hunt. Dove seasons are set during the late summer or early fall and are released through the local media. Hunters must be registered in the Harvest Information Program (HIP) to hunt doves.
Exact seasons dates and bag limits for migratory species such as doves are posted during the late summer. But based on what took place last year, hunters can expect a lengthy season and liberal bag limits. Last year's season was a three-split affair, the first phase starting on Sept. 1 and running into early October. The bag limit was 15, with a possession limit of 30. Be sure to consult the DNR's Web site at www.wvdnr.gov, plus dispatches in the local media for the exact details of this year's dove hunt.
Stonewall Jackson WMA Ruffed Grouse<br?Grouse hunting continues to be an important activity among the strong-of-heart. Wildlife managers have been involved in research projects during the past decade to help determine why grouse numbers have been on the decline, which has resulted in a better understanding of what it takes to best manage these crafty birds. Of course, factors like spring nesting conditions have a strong influence on reproductive success during a given year. Grouse, like wild turkeys, prosper from warm, dry springs.
Stonewall Jackson WMA covers an impressive 18,289 acres in Lewis County. The cornerstone of the wildlife area is the lake of the same name and the fine warm-water fishing opportunities found there. But Stonewall Jackson offers much more than good fishing. The diverse habitat provides food and cover for many game species, including ruffed grouse.
Though grouse numbers have been somewhat depressed of late on Stonewall Jackson, it isn't because of a lack of quality habitat. The mix found there is one that favors edge species such as grouse. The soil of Stonewall Jackson is unusually fertile by West Virginia standards. The topography falls into the rolling hills category. The tract is complete with reverting farmland, which typically equates into the perfect blend of food and cover beneficial to grouse.
Also present are several old strip mines that help grouse survive, particularly areas that have grown up in pine. Pine furnishes important thermal habitat for grouse during the winter.
As grouse hunters well know, grouse tend to prefer the edges of habitats, such as where an alder thicket gives way to more open woods. Manmade openings create a multitude of edges. Stonewall Jackson contains plenty of these. Over 350 natural gas wells are present. Not only do the well openings provide edges, but the associated access roads do as well. This wildlife management area has much to offer the ruffed grouse, as well as those that pursue them.
Traditionally West Virginia's grouse season opens in mid-October and runs through late February. The bag limit has been four birds, with a 16-bird possession limit.
Stonewall Jackson WMA can be accessed from exits 96 and 91 off Interstate 79. More information can be obtained by calling the resource manager's office at (304) 269-7463.
Logan County Whitetails
Southern West Virginia's four bowhunting only counties -- Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell and Logan -- offer up a chance of taking a real wallhanger of a buck. For over 20 years, these four counties have been under the bows-only restriction, a factor that has resulted in plenty of mature bucks. Bucks actually die of old age within the rugged terrain of this area.
Logan County has produced plenty of record-book bucks, a fact shown each season in the DNR's Big Buck Contest. Many of the bigger bucks succumb during the November rut period, when they become more mobile, as well as less wary.
Much of the land of this region is held by timber and mining interests. In general, such companies have allowed the land to be open to the public for hunting. But this isn't a show-up-and-hunt kind of deal. It requires some planning to find the access roads to potential hunting lands, as well as to scout the lands. While Logan County doesn't have the lofty elevations, as do the National Forest Lands to the northeast, it is the most rugged, steepest terrain in the state. And the county is well over 90 percent
forested; it will take some preplanning to learn how the deer run along these ridges.
While mostly in private ownership, Logan County does have one wildlife management area. Elk Creek WMA covers over 6,000 acres. It is located in both Logan and Mingo counties. Elk Creek is typical of the terrain of the region. It lies in a narrow, steep-sided, heavily forested valley.
The WMA does not offer any camping for the hunter. However, there are a couple options in the area. Chief Logan State Park is located nearby, and provides a campground that stays open into November. Contact the state park at (304) 792-7125 for the exact dates of the campground season. The state park also boasts a lodge that is open year 'round. For more on the state park, visit the Web site: www.chiefloganstatepark.com.
If you decide to hunt this area in October rather than later, another camping option is located at R.D. Bailey Lake, where the Corps of Engineers has a 169-tent site campground that closes on Nov. 1. Call (304) 664-3229 for more information. The rugged lands surrounding R.D. Bailey Lake are also open to the public for hunting, and fall within Logan and Mingo counties.
The town of Logan has basic amenities as well.
Monongahela National Forest Black Bears
West Virginia's black bear population has grown to impressive size during the past decade. Harvests of over 2,000 bruins have occurred of late, including last season's record take of 2,064.
"Numerous factors contributed to this record bear harvest," said Chris Ryan, the state's bear biologist. "West Virginia has a tremendous bear population that allows for a variety of different hunting opportunities. The expansion and increase in the bear population has led to the extension of hunting seasons designed to keep counties in line with their management objectives. With the cooperation of hunters, wildlife managers can maintain and/or adjust bear populations to desired management levels by implementing appropriate hunting regulations."
The overall population is getting much bigger, as well as the potential for record caliber bears. And one of the best places to take a bruin is the Monongahela National Forest and closely surrounding country.
Consider the harvest results from last year's record-breaking season: Counties such as Pocahontas (197), Randolph (198), Tucker (96) and Pendleton (188) all provided lofty harvests.
West Virginia's various bear seasons include a two-way split firearms season, which applies to the counties that contain Mon National Forest Land. The first phase of the season occurs in September. The late-season hunt includes much of December (based on last year's hunting dates).
The Mon National Forest boasts hundreds of acres of public land in the form of both state and national wildlife management areas.
In Pocahontas County, consider the state-owned Handley WMA. Hunters can expect to find some rolling hills mixed in with the more rugged terrain common to this area. In Randolph County, there is the nearly 3,000 acres of public area found at the Huntsville WMA. This area, too, has some farmland, open-type tracts mixed in with the forested slopes.
State-managed land is diminutive compared with the nationally managed WMAs. Hundreds of thousands of acres are available. This includes the J. Beaver Dam WMA, which provides nearly 38,000 acres in Randolph County; Blackwater WMA with 59,000 acres in Tucker and Preston counties; Cheat WMA, another Randolph County tract that adds over 80,000 acres.
All of these immense areas are typical of the oak/hickory forest that covers this region.
Elk River WMA Squirrels
One would be hard-pressed to find a state where squirrel hunting is more popular than West Virginia. The DNR even schedules fall trout stockings to coincide with the October squirrel season opener, so hunters can combine trout fishing with an early fall hunt for bushytails.
Well it's winter now, and the mid-October squirrel season opener happened over three months ago. But winter squirrel hunts can be especially gratifying, particularly during a spell of mild weather. Braxton County's Elk River WMA is a nice place to enjoy such a hunt.
The Elk River WMA covers over 18,000 acres. The Elk River, including the dammed portion that forms Sutton Lake, forms the nucleus of the area. While anglers make good use of the lake and river, the surrounding uplands provide the habitat necessary for forest species such as squirrels.
Hunters can expect to find a mixture of steep hills, ridges and benches along the Elk River valley. Much of the forestland is of the mature stage, making it ideal habitat for squirrels.
Squirrels tend to move along with the feed. As they use up the available mast in a given area, they move, so they may not be where you found them earlier in the year. As with the bear hunt described earlier, finding squirrels often means finding food. If hard mast is scarce, finding localized pockets of food generally means you will find game. Since deer and squirrels use many of the same food sources, finding areas of heavy deer movements may well lead you to concentrations of squirrels.
To reach the Elk River WMA, take Exit 67 off Interstate 79. Travel south on SR 19. After about two miles, turn east on SR 15 and proceed to the signs for the WMA.
The Elk River WMA can also provide some excellent waterfowling opportunities during a mild winter (i.e., open water). It may be possible to combine a squirrel hunt with a waterfowl adventure. Consult the 2009-2010 migratory bird brochure before planning such a duck or goose hunt. The daily bag limit for squirrels is six.
Green Bottom WMA Rabbits
West Virginia has a liberal season on cottontail rabbits. Typically, the season for rabbits doesn't end until Feb. 28. Though you will want to check regulations for any changes this season, it's likely you will be able to schedule a late-season rabbit hunt or two. Mason County has a couple of perfect public venues to do so.
Green Bottom WMA, found in Mason and Cabell counties, provides public land that contains some good areas for cottontails. The Green Bottom tract covers nearly 1,100 acres. About 680 of these acres exist as farmland. Surrounding habitat includes forest and wetlands. The Green Mountain WMA is located 16 miles north of Huntington on SR 2.
Also, the McClintic WMA covers 3,655 acres, much of it being good rabbitat. The ideal rabbit habitat tends to be a mixture of farmland and brush land, of which McClintic has both. Hunters can expect to find about 600 acres of farmland and 1,100 acres of brushy cover at McClintic.
The ideal day for late-winter rabbit hunting is mild and sunny. When the sun is out, the rabbits will be more active. If the ground is damp, as with a melting snow, the scent conditions can be ex
cellent for beagles. But lacking a dog is no reason to pass up a late-winter rabbit hunt. A hunter can bounce them out on his or her own, an excellent way to shake off the cabin fever blues.