The most-successful deer hunters have a strong knowledge of the total deer picture. This includes deer management and philosophies. Factors, such as buck-to-doe ratios, urban deer management, social acceptance of whitetail densities and diseases all affect deer populations, and the intense attention the species receives from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
While deer hunters must be adept at locating bedding areas, escape routes, food sources and more, they also need to understand the complete picture.
DEER HARVEST HISTORY
According to the West Virginia Division of Wildlife, hunters took a total of 108,160 deer during the 2017 season. This includes a total of 77,711 during the firearms seasons (44,127 bucks and 33,584 antlerless). Hunter using bows took 26,206 deer, with another 4,243 with muzzleloaders. The 2017 harvest was four percent below the 2016 harvest, and 15 percent below the five-year average.
WVDNR Wildlife Biologist Jim Crum says there are natural limits to the number of deer the land can support. When these natural limits are exceeded, deer body weights, reproductive weights, antler development and herd health declines. He says a minimum harvest of 70 females for every 100 bucks is generally required just to stabilize a deer herd. If a decrease in the herd is warranted, the percentage of females needs to be more.
Harvest records dating back to 1993 — ones that include the percentage of female deer in the harvest — appear to reflect the stabilizing effect the 40 percent female harvest has had on the overall number of deer taken.
“The 2017 deer harvest records indicate the percentage of female deer at 38.7 percent, down slightly from the 39 percent recorded in 2016,” noted Crum. “However, the percentage of female deer in individual counties in 2017 ranged from 21 to 48 percent, which reflects antlerless deer season framework design for individual counties to grow, reduce or stabilize the deer population on a county basis.”
Last year marked the sixth year for a three-day October firearms antlerless deer season and a reduction of the traditional December antlerless season from six to three days. The December antlerless season followed the mid-December muzzleloader season. The antlerless deer maximum season bag limit, which was reduced from four to three in 2012, remained at three during last year’s hunt. Some counties had more restrictive antlerless bag limits. Not all counties were open for antlerless hunting.
The antlerless season was closed on a large portion of national forest land. As in 2016, all Monongahela National Forest land in Pocahontas and Randolph counties was closed to firearms antlerless hunting.
According to Crum, 51 counties were open to the two-week, bucks-only season last year. The desired buck harvest was not exceeded by more than one buck per square mile in any county open to firearms hunting.
“Hunters and landowners must continually assess their expectations on the proper number of deer sightings versus the visible impacts deer have on vegetation, and manage the state’s deer herd by participating and encouraging antlerless deer harvest where needed,” said Crum. “This benefits not only the deer herd, but all wildlife dependent on our state’s woodland habitat.”
2018 DEER SEASON OUTLOOK
Crum says that overall hunting opportunities across the state this year will be the same as last season, except for decreased antlerless deer season bag limits and some reduction in hunting opportunities in counties where data indicates female deer harvest should be decreased to stabilize or increase deer populations.
“The White-tailed Deer Operational Plan is undergoing a scheduled revision that will extend the plan through 2020,” Crum explained. “In general, earlier changes to increase the diversity of hunting opportunity, simplify hunting regulations and better distribute antlerless deer harvest goals, will be evaluated and modified to better meet these initiatives. The revised plan may also include alternative efforts to monitor the herd through examination of hunter-harvested animals for collection of biological information and tissue samples for disease testing.”
Last year was the third season for the electronic game checking system and the second year hunters were directed to take deer harvested on the first two days of the buck firearms season to special designated locations where wildlife personnel could examine the deer.
“In Mason and Upshur counties, this required examination was for the collection of biological information, such as age and antler development,” Crum explained. “In Hampshire County, the required carcass examination was to collect samples for chronic wasting disease.”
A similar requirement may be asked of hunters again this year. According to Crum, hunter cooperation in delivering deer to the examination stations and recording their harvest throughout the deer season is an integral part of the DNR’s ability to manage deer in the state.
“Hunters have helped manage deer in the state since mandatory game checking began in 1929,” said Crum. The information provided by hunters is the foundation for tracking deer herd trends and monitoring doe harvest impacts.”
CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
Crum reports that efforts to monitor CWD and to control its spread in free-ranging deer in Hampshire and Hardy counties by DNR, landowners and hunters are ongoing.
In the 2017 deer season, samples taken from 552 hunter-harvested deer brought to DNR staffed stations were tested for CWD. Seventy-one samples were found to have the abnormal protein associated with CWD. This means that CWD has now been detected in 332 deer in Hampshire County and six deer in Hardy County.
“Lowering encounter rates between infected and non-infected animals by prohibiting artificial supplemental feeding and baiting are generally accepted management practices for slowing the spread of an infectious disease among wildlife and initiating these prohibitions on a statewide or regional basis for deer is a major tool used by other states combating CWD,” said Crum.
As of February, in all of Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral and Morgan counties, it is illegal to bait or feed deer any time. In addition, hunters are prohibited from transporting dead deer or their parts beyond the boundary of Hampshire, Hardy and Morgan counties unless the meat has been boned out or in quarters or other portions with no part of the spinal column or head attached. Hides must be cleaned with no head attached and skull plates must have no meat or tissue attached as well.
CWD is a threat not only in West Virginia, but neighboring states as well. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have detected CWD positive deer adjacent to Hampshire County in Frederick and Shenandoah counties in Virginia, and Allegany County in Maryland. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has detected CWD-positive deer in Bedford, Blair and Fulton counties adjacent and north of Allegany County, Maryland.
“To reduce the risk of spreading CWD to new areas, other states have made it illegal to possess or use deer scents/lures that contain natural deer urine or other bodily fluids while taking, attempting to take, attracting or scouting wildlife,” explained Crum. “West Virginia deer hunters are urged to use caution in spreading natural deer urine-based lures in the environment and asked not to place deer urine lures on the ground or on vegetation where deer can reach them.”
Crum says that a well-documented method of spreading CWD across long distances is the movement of live species of deer for commercial purposes. Many organizations, such as the Quality Deer Management Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Wildlife Society, have recognized the threat the pen propagation and translocation of deer species represent to wild deer and elk.
“This threat is not only from CWD but also from the introduction of other pathogens and genetic consequences, which have the potential to devastate our deer resource,” said Crum.
Be Willing To Change
Deer hunting in the Mountain State is steeped with tradition, such as hunting with the same family members or friends, revisiting the same stand on opening day or visiting the same roadside cafe on the way home after a long, cold day in the woods. But traditions should not blind you from necessary change.
The WVDNR sees change as an important aspect of deer management. Deer live in a dynamic, ever-changing landscape, one where basic requirements, such as food and cover, are in a constant state of flux. Hunter attitudes that understand and embrace changes in deer management, such as modifications in seasons and bag limits in response to available deer habitat, go a long way toward the common goal of a healthy deer herd.
These include acceptance of regulation changes that involve the harvest of more female deer than bucks to establish balance between populations and habitat conditions, avoiding supplemental feeding to address poor habitat condition, emphasize habitat management and recognize how deer impact forests and other wildlife. It also includes developing a year-round awareness of deer and their annual cycles and promoting better hunter-landowner relationships to support programs that provide access for deer hunting.