Look no farther than these six picks, where you'll find some of our state's best hunting for doves, deer, bushytails and more this season. (August 2006)
In a state that provides as diverse a list of hunting opportunities as West Virginia, it only makes sense to organize the options into some game plan of sort. The many hunting options are a direct reflection of the varied habitat found in our state. Naturally, the mountainous, forested terrain comes to mind, and the chances to hunt forest species, such as white-tailed deer, black bear and wild turkey, come to mind.
But the Mountain State has much more to offer. The fertile valleys that drain rivers like the Ohio and Kanawha provide ideal habitat for farm game species, such as cottontail rabbits. They are also corridors for waterfowl, so options to hunt ducks and geese also abound. Squirrel hunting is a treasured, traditional pastime in our state, and there are many venues from which to choose. Though ruffed grouse numbers have been low in recent years, there is still something special about the anticipation that comes with approaching a covert that has held birds in the past.
With this in mind, West Virginia Game & Fish presents its 2006 annual hunting calendar. During some months, such as November and December, a variety of options exist. Just because your favorite species may not be highlighted does not mean it is a poor choice. Space only allows for the mention of so many prospects.
Hillcrest WMA: Mourning Doves
Though the air temperatures may seem more like summer than fall, September ushers in a host of new season hunting choices. The September list of options is a rather short one. You can chase resident geese in a variety of venues. You can pursue a more traditional choice, like starting things off with a Labor Day dove hunt. The Hillcrest Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Hancock County is a good place to set up such a public-land hunt.
Hillcrest WMA is located in the northern tip of the state's Northern Panhandle. The entire Northern Panhandle is but a sliver of country that lies along the eastern side of the Ohio River. While the region boasts its share of industry, there is also a fair amount of farmland.
The Hillcrest WMA covers 2,212 acres. Whereas many of our state's WMAs and federal public lands are composed mostly of forestland, the Hillcrest tract is made up largely of reverting farmland. A hunter can expect to find a mixture of old farm fields, croplands and scattered wood lots. The lay of the land varies from that of flat bottomlands to slopes that rise up to elevations of 1,000 to 1,200 feet.
Mourning doves are fairly predicable creatures, making daily flights between feeding and roosting areas. In that they tend to roost in open areas such as dead trees and on power lines, finding concentrations of birds is rarely a problem. A pre-hunt scouting trip should reveal locations that the birds are using. Corn and grain fields are typical feeding areas. Doves need grit to digest their food, so dirt roads that provide gravel are another important ingredient in locating doves. Add to that the need for water and you've covered the basics.
You can access the Hillcrest WMA by way of state Route (SR) 8, which intersects with SR 2 north of Weirton. County roads 42, 14 and 18 all extend into the interior of the Hillcrest tract. Nearby Tomlinson Run State Park is located just to the west, on the opposite side of SR 8. Camping is available at the state park, which might be a nice way to spend a late-summer weekend, dove hunting and camping.
Last year the three-way split dove season opened on Sept. 1. The daily bag limit was 12, with a possession limit of 24. Exact dove season dates are announced each year late in the summer. Be sure to check the regulations out before going hunting, of course.
Southern State Black Bears
Recent years have witnessed a significant growth in the population of black bears in the southern region of the state. Black bears are numerous, grow to trophy proportions, and a lengthy archery season is available to pursue them.
According to West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) bear biologist Chris Ryan, the state's southern bear range is rugged territory that lies south of SR 60, east of SR 119 and west of SR 77. In a large part, because of the steepness of the terrain, he said the survival rate of bears is very high.
This area is part of the southern coal belt. Public land is relatively scarce there, but much of the area is owned by timber and coal companies, and remains open to public hunting. The status of backcountry roads, used primarily for moving coal out of the mountains, can change because of mining operations.
The hills of southern West Virginia are heavily forested and rugged. Elevations are significantly lower in the mountains to the northeast, but the mountainsides are steep. Since little farmland is available, the bears' primary food source is the natural mast present in the forest. In general, archery hunting is most productive during years of poor mast production. When mast such as acorns is extremely localized, bear location is much easier to pin down.
While public lands are the exception rather than the rule, there are some choices in southern West Virginia. R.D. Bailey WMA is located in Mingo and Wyoming counties. The public land is the tract surrounding R.D. Bailey Lake. Black bears are common in the general area, though they tend to be found more so on the private land surrounding the public tract. Fayette County's Plum Orchard WMA provides over 3,000 areas of public land, and it offers a variety of habitat. The Kanawha State Forest, found just to the south of the state capitol of Charleston, adds about 9,000 acres of public land.
Last year's bear archery season opened in mid-October and was open statewide with the exception of the Cranberry Area. Be sure to check out this year's regulations for specific dates as well as any changes in areas closed to archery hunting.
Hampshire County Deer
The Eastern Panhandle region of the state, that portion that is sandwiched between Maryland and Virginia, features its share of outdoor opportunities. Both the South and North branches of the Potomac River flow through the region, offering up chances for waterfowlers. The wooded hillsides and adjacent farmlands play host to good white-tailed deer populations as well.
During last year's two-week concurrent buck/antlerless deer seasons, two of the region's counties produced buck kills in the state's top 10 harvest list.
Hardy County hunters tagged 2,037 bucks during the 2005 two-week late fall hunt, while Hampshire hunters added 1,964 to the bag.
Hampshire County provides the best chance at public-land deer in the region. Five separate WMAs are found in the county, two of them being of significant size.
The Nathaniel Mountain WMA contains 8,875 acres. It is located near SR 50 east of Romney. The Nathaniel Mountain WMA ranges in topography from about 1,000 feet to over 3,000 feet. This is a mountainous tract that features three separate mountains, those being Nathaniel Mountain, Piney Mountain and Big Mountain.
Primary hardwood species in the tract are oak and hickory. Some stands of Virginia pine are also found there. To reach the Nathaniel Mountain WMA, take SR 50/10 (aka Grassy Lick Road) south off SR 50. This road will take you to the entrance road to the Nathaniel Tract.
Found just to the east, Short Mountain WMA is another significant Hampshire County public land. It covers a bit over 8,000 acres. Like the Nathaniel WMA, the Short Mountain tract is covered with a mix of oak-hickory hardwoods and Virginia pine. Two ridges of the Short Mountain WMA form a long, horseshoe-shaped basin. This tract is accessed by way of SR 29 (at Augusta) off SR 50.
Hampshire County shares the Springfield WMA with Mineral County. Another 9,500 acres of oak-hickory forest is provided in this WMA, which features rugged terrain. Nine separate tracts comprise the Springfield WMA, which is owned by the Westvaco Corporation and managed by the DNR.
Two smaller WMAs round out the Hampshire County public-land deer options. Fort Mill Ridge WMA has 217 acres. It sits along a single ridge that is covered in hardwood with a sprinkling of pine. The Edwards Run WMA covers nearly 400 acres and features the oak-hickory forest typical of the region, as well as a few clearings.
Northern State Deer
December provides several deer-hunting options. There is the tag end of the two-week buck/antlerless season. Add to that the annual antlerless season. Then there is also the muzzleloader season.
One of the state's more productive areas is the three-county region just south of the Pennsylvania line, more specifically Preston, Monongalia and Wetzel counties. Last year, Preston County led the state in terms of buck harvest during the two-week concurrent buck/antlerless season, when 2,242 bucks were taken there. Wetzel and Monongalia also were in the top 10, with Wetzel County producing 1,669 bucks, while the bag in neighboring Monongalia County was 1,650.
This region of the state plays host to a mix of agricultural, industrial and municipal use. Working farms are present, as are urban areas, such as Morgantown. The area also has a decent amount of public land.
Coopers Run State Forest is the most significant tract of land in this region. Coopers Run covers over 12,000 acres. Found in both Preston and Monongalia counties, the forest is easily accessed by way of Interstate 68, east out of Morgantown.
The terrain within Coopers Run varies from gently rolling hillsides to steeper slopes. Rock outcroppings are common. Directly across the Cheat River from Coopers Run State Park is the Snake Hill WMA. Snake Hill covers 2,000 acres. The terrain is similar to that of Coopers Run. Expect to find rugged terrain rising up from the river bottom, with gentle slopes on the ridgetops. Oak-hickory forestland covers both Coopers Run and Snake Hill. The Snake Hill tract can be reached by county routes 75 and 75/2 near Dellslow.
Briery Hill adds another 1,000 acres of public land to Preston County. This area is owned by the West Virginia State Armory Board and requires a special permit to hunt there. The permit is available from the DNR office in Fairmont. Whetzell Settlement Road provides access to this area. It intersects with SR 7 just east of Kingwood.
The Lewis Wetzel WMA provides a significant public tract in Wetzel County. Over 13,000 acres of oak, hickory and beech forest are found there. This area is located just under a mile south of Jacksonburg along Buffalo Run Road.
Elk River WMA: Squirrels
One would be hard-pressed to find a state where squirrel hunting is more popular than in West Virginia. Heck, 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.
Even though this pick is geared to late-winter hunting, squirrel hunts can be especially gratifying, particularly during a spell of mild weather late in the season. And 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 is 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 here is mature stage, making it ideal habitat for squirrels.
Squirrels tend to move according to where good mast production occurs. As they use up the available mast in a given area, they move. So it's important to note that bushytails 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 movement 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. Go about two miles and turn east on SR 15, and then follow the signs for the WMA.
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 2006-07 waterfowling seasons before planning such a duck or goose hunt. The daily bag limit for squirrels is six.
Mason County: Cottontails
West Virginia has a liberal season on cottontail rabbits. Last year the season for rabbits didn'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. And Mason County has a couple of perfect public venues to do so.
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 brushland, of which McClintic has both. Hunters can expect to find about 600 acres of farmland and 1,100 acres of brushy cover at McClintic.
To reach the McClintic tract from Mason, travel south about eight miles on SR 62. The WMA is accessed by way of CR 12 (Fairgrounds Road). From Point Pleasant, travel north for five miles on SR 62.
The Green Bottom WMA, found in Mason and Cabell counties, also 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.
The ideal day for late-winter rabbit hunting is a mild, sunny day. 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 excellent for beagles. However, 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, which is an excellent way to shake off the cabin fever blues.
There you have it, multiple picks for fine hunting throughout the Mountain State's hunting seasons. Whether you're after bushytails or bears, waterfowl or white-tailed deer, there's something for everyone in our wild and wonderful state!
Find more about West Virginia fishing and hunting at: WVgameandfish.com.