Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

For the second year in a row, biologists from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources are proposing only minor increases in the number of antlerless deer that hunters will be allowed to kill this fall.

If approved, the proposed regulation changes would be as follows:

  • The number of counties with antlerless-deer seasons would increase from 41 to 44;
  • The number of counties with four-deer bag limits would increase from 19 to 22; and
  • The number of counties with two-deer bag limits would increase from 10 to 13.

In addition, DNR biologists want to allow 20 days’ worth of antlerless-deer hunting on 41 state-owned wildlife management areas. Last year, those areas were open for just six days.

For more detailed information, see the article published in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail. 

Lowering the boom on bears

Faced with a fast-growing black-bear population, unprecedented numbers of bear-nuisance complaints and record payouts for bear damage claims, West Virginia wildlife officials want to change the way people hunt the animals.

Division of Natural Resources officials know that the best way to reduce the bear population is to kill female bears before they go into hibernation and give birth. So, in Sunday’s Natural Resources Commission meeting, DNR bear biologist Chris Ryan proposed a September hunting season for counties where bruin populations are starting to cause problems.

If history is any indication, the strategy should work. Prior to 1977, bear seasons opened in November. Hunters had no trouble killing females; in fact, the earlier seasons shrank the statewide bear population to fewer than 500 animals.

In 1977, wildlife officials pushed the bear season back into December. Hunters killed lots of male bears, but most females were safely in their winter dens by then. The bear population rose steadily, and today numbers more than 12,000.

The September season is designed to reverse the bear population trend. Biologists placed the season in September instead of November to avoid conflicts with bowhunters during the peak of the deer rutting season.

If approved by the Natural Resources Commission, the September season would be held this fall in Boone, Barbour, Fayette, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Kanawha, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Raleigh, Randolph, Tucker and Webster counties. 

Waterfowl numbers down, but nothing to fret about

Division of Natural Resources biologists recently completed the state’s annual winter waterfowl survey. They counted 1,714 ducks and 3,466 geese — fewer than normal, but about what was expected.

Cold weather in January ordinarily pushes ducks and geese from the Great Lakes region into our area. This year, according to the DNR, warmer-than-normal temperatures allowed those birds to stay north of us.

The upshot? Chances are the state’s duck and goose hunting won’t be much different this year than it has in past years.

West Virginia’s wildlife officials had long wondered whether the state’s spring gobbler season was too long — that hunters were killing more birds than the population could stand.

Happily, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Biologists recently completed a study of radio-collared gobblers, and its results appear to show that the spring season isn’t too long after all.

Well, at least it got changed

It took a couple of weeks for lawmakeres to whip it into shape, but it appears that a legislative bill to teach hunter safety education in middle-school and high-school physical education classes has finally been amended into a form West Virginians might accept.

This week’s Gazette-Mail column describes the bill’s evolution.

West Virginia’s wildlife officials are concerned that the 12,000 bears now roaming the state might be more than the public wants. So, when the state Natural Resources Commission meets on Feb. 24, they’ll hear proposals from Division of Natural Resources biologists to change a few bear-hunting regulations.

 Read the full story here.

The greatest gift of all

West Virginia’s deer hunters deserve a pat on the back.

They donated 1,224 deer to the Division of Natural Resources’ Hunters Helping the Hungry Program in 2007. That’s a 19 percent increase from 2006, when hunters donated 1,030 whitetails to the cause.

Since an average deer yields roughly 40 pounds of boned, ground venison, it’s reasonable to estimate that West Virginia’s hunters put 25 tons of venison on needy people’s tables this year!

The program, begun in the early 1990s by former DNR director Ed Hamrick, allows hunters to donate any deer they kill. The donated animals are butchered at designated meat-processing centers throughout the state, and the venison gets trucked to the Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway for distribution.

Food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers and needy families receive most of the donated meat. Since the program’s inception, Hunters Helping the Hungry has been the Mountaineer Food Bank’s largest and most reliable source of red meat.

W.Va.’s elk dilemma

West Virginia’s wildlife officials aren’t especially happy to have elk roaming the state’s southern mountains, but they’ll manage the animals anyway.

Curtis Taylor, the Division of Natural Resources’ wildlife chief, said DNR biologists will gather soon to decide how best to manage any elk that currently reside within the state’s borders.

Those would include the mysterious Logan County herd that materialized, seemingly from thin air, in December 2006 between Man and Logan. Those animals were last seen in the Blair Mountain area and appear to be keeping a low profile. Individual elk have been spotted in Mingo and Wayne counties.

“Even if we don’t already have elk here, we’re going to get them as the population in eastern Kentucky increases and those animals spread out,” Taylor said.

Kentucky now boasts a population of more than 6,000 elk, the result of an aggressive stocking program begun in 1997. Most of Kentucky’s elk live in counties adjacent to West Virginia.

“They’ll eventually move here, and we’re going to have to be ready to manage them when they do,” Taylor said.

A meeting of the minds

Starting tomorrow, West Virginia’s wildlife biologists will begin two days’ worth of meetings at the Division of Natural Resources’ Elkins Operations Center. After they emerge from their meeting rooms, agency biologists will put together their proposals for this year’s big-game seasons. Look for substantial changes in bear-hunting regulations, but very few changes in deer-hunting regulations. Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, says the proposals will be made public Feb. 24 at the Natural Resources Commission’s midwinter meeting in Charleston.