Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Months after conducting the most liberal and prolific black-bear harvest in state history, West Virginia’s wildlife officials want to slow things down a bit.

“The [proposed] changes are pretty major,” said Division of Natural Resources bear biologist Chris Ryan. “We’d like to cut the number of September counties from [last year’s] 15 to [this year’s] four; the September season in those four counties would be six days long instead of nine; and the bag limit would be reduced from two to one.”

Ryan cited a simple reason for the changes.

“The [September] season was designed to allow hunters to harvest additional female bears and bring populations back within our management guidelines. In many of the counties, we believe we accomplished that objective,” he said.

Ryan used the word “believe” because DNR officials must wait until August or September to receive definitive age data on the 322 female bears killed last September.

A Montana-based lab analyzes bear ages from tooth samples taken from West Virginia’s bear kills. West Virginia’s turn in the lab’s rotation comes up in early August. Thus the delay in learning the results, and thus the reason Ryan and his colleagues asked for a scaled-back September season.

“If we did kill enough females to meet our management objectives, we don’t want to schedule another September season and risk an over-harvest,” Ryan said.

Under the DNR proposal, the September season would disappear from Barbour, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker and Webster counties. It would remain in effect in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh counties.

Ryan said hunters who lament the season’s disappearance in their home counties shouldn’t have a very long wait before it returns.

“With a growth rate like the one in those counties, it won’t be long before populations rise enough to justify another early season,” he said.

Hunters will have a chance to comment on the proposed regulations at a series of DNR sectional meetings in March. Members of the Natural Resources Commission should finalize the 2009 season dates and bag limits by late April or early May.

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Take Lucas Allen, for instance. The 18-year-old Poca High junior went deer hunting during West Virginia’s buck season and — without firing a shot — ended up with a 20-point trophy!

Allen found the buck’s carcass as he headed for his tree stand on the season’s sixth day. He figured it had been dead several weeks because all the hide was gone and scavengers had scattered some of the bones.

Allen’s brother and some friends chipped in to have the dead buck’s antlers mounted. Taxidermist Richard Spencer just happened to have a spare cape in his shop, and he combined the cape with the antlers to produce a handsome trophy.

Allen said he never suspected an eastern Putnam County buck could survive long enough to attain that size. He plans to spend the next few hunting seasons trying to get one in his gunsights.

Meetings of the West Virginia Natural Resources Commission are usually rather sedate affairs. Boring, in fact.

The standard meeting goes somthing like this: Representatives of hunting- and fishing-related groups step up to a microphone and comment on the state’s hunting and fishing regulations. Commissioners then solicit input from the pertinent Division of Natural Resources employees, and — armed with all that information — set future regulations accordingly.

Necessary, but boring.

The commission’s most recent meeting generated quite a bit more excitement.

Officials at the National Rifle Association, apparently at the behest of some of the organization’s Mountain State members, sent out postcards advocating a gun season for deer in four West Virginia counties currently closed to firearm hunting. The postcards instructed members who wanted firearm hunting in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties to forward the cards to DNR Director Frank Jezioro.

Bowhunters in the southern counties went ballistic. They’d had those counties all to themselves since 1979 and had reaped considerable benefit from the arrangement. Unmolested by firearms, the area had developed a reputation for producing record-breaking bucks.

The bowhunters not only got mad, they got organized. They chartered a bus to carry them from Beckley to the commission meeting in Flatwoods. Their numbers swelled the meeting from the usual two to three dozen attendees to nearly 200. At one point in the meeting, 152 bowhunters stood to oppose the idea of a firearm season.

Interestingly, no one from the NRA showed up to defend the idea. Jezioro held aloft the 263 postcards he’d been sent and told the crowd he’d return them to the NRA “because [the NRA] chose to work outside the usual system for setting hunting and fishing regulations.”

A couple of days after the meeting, an NRA spokesman said the bowhunters “overreacted” because the postcards were simply meant to gauge hunters’ opinions on a firearm season.

Overreaction or not, the set-to injected a bit of excitement into an otherwise dull meeting of bureaucrats and policy makers.

As W.Va. bears move west, can they be controlled?

Now that West Virginia’s black bears have filled their ecological niche in the state’s eastern and southwestern counties, their next frontier appears to be the counties between Interstate 79 and the Ohio River.

“Any time you get animals migrating into areas they haven’t historically inhabited, you generally see their numbers expand dramatically,” says Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “We think that’s going to happen in the western counties sometime in the foreseeable future.”

Problem is, bears tend to increase in number until they start causing problems for humans. Wildlife officials usually try to minimize those problems by encouraging hunters to kill more bears. Problem is, land ownership patterns in West Virginia’s western counties won’t allow the style of hunting that has proven most effective.

Taylor believes the western counties lack the large tracts of land necessary for bear hunting with dogs. “Most tracts in those counties are 100 acres or less,” he says. “There’s no way you can turn a pack of dogs loose without causing problems with [neighboring] landowners.”

Hunters who use dogs have much more room to roam in the eastern counties, where the Monongahela National Forest provides nearly a million acres of public hunting land. Most of the land in Southern West Virginia is privately owned, but most of the coal and timber companies that own it allow hunters to roam freely.

Taylor knows that won’t be the case in the western counties, and he believes DNR officials will have to get creative to keep bears from becoming overpopulated.

“We’ll have to manage bear numbers in the western counties through expanded gun hunts, bow hunts, buck-season hunts and things like that,” he says.

Bowhunter Chris Parsons has to wonder whether his glass is half full or half empty.

On the half-full side, he did manage to bag two Pope and Young-class bucks during the recently concluded West Virginia archery season.

On the half-empty side, he didn’t get a single scrap of venison from either deer. One got eaten by coyotes, the other by bears. Sunday’s Gazette-Mail column has the full story.

A sure cure for cabin fever

With streams all iced over and most hunting seasons closed for another year, it’s easy to get a little stir crazy. Fortunately, we West Virginians have a three-day aspirin guaranteed to break even the worst case of cabin fever.

The West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show will be held this weekend, Jan. 30-Feb. 1,  at the Charleston Civic Center. An estimated 15,000 Mountain State outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen are expected to attend.

They’ll roam among more 230 vendor displays  — checking out the latest firearms and bows, booking adventures to places as far away as South Africa and New Zealand, and arranging taxidermy on the big bucks they killed last fall.

It’s quite literally a gathering of West Virginia’s outdoors clan. I missed last year’s show because I had to travel to Salt Lake City. I’m looking forward to getting back there this year.

Congratulations to Curtis Fleming, host and executive producer of the TV fishing show “Fly Rod Chronicles.”

Fleming recieved the “Episode of the Year” award at the fifth annual Sportsman Channel Awards Banquet, held recently at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Orlando.

The award-winning episode featured Fleming fishing with wounded members of the U.S. military as part of the “Project Healing Waters” program.

Members of the Howard County, Md., Council are considering a set of regulations that could essentially ban hunting throughout the county.

The scary thing is that none of the language specifically prohibits hunting. Instead, the proposal’s provisions call for restrictions on shooting, such as:

  • No shooting on parcels of land less than 10 acres;
  • No shooting within 300 yards of a building;
  • No shooting within 100 yards of any public road; and
  • No shooting in the direction of a building or campground if the distance falls within the maximum range of the firearm being used.

That final provision would be the real deal-killer. Essentially, it would make it impossible to shoot a rifle or shotgun within the county.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance has more information about the proposal here.

A group of Southern West Virginia horse owners have formed the nation’s newest chapter of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.

The group, called the West Virginia Six-Shooters, will participate in a pastime known as cowboy mounted shooting — sort of a cross between cowboy action shooting and rodeo barrel racing.

Contestants bolt from a starting gate and race down a pre-determined course at full gallop, firing at five balloons as they go. When they reach the end of the course, they draw their other six-gun, wheel their mounts around a barrel, and gallop back to the starting line while shooting at five more targets. Riders with the lowest elapsed times and the fewest missed shots win.

The Six-Shooters’ organizational meeting will be held Sunday, Jan. 25, at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Beckley. More information is available from the club’s Web site, www.wvsixshooters.club.officelive.com

The latest madness from those PETAphiles

One thing I’ll grudgingly admit about animal-rights zealots. They’re usually good for a laugh.

Case in point: The latest crusade by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They hope to discourage people’s interest in fishing by changing the way people think about fish. Instead of calling them “fish,” PETA members are supposed to build sympathy for denizens of the underwater world by renaming them “sea kittens.”

So instead of “fishing,” PETA refers to the use of hook and line as “the hunting of sea kittens.”

Gimme a break…