- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Once again, West Virginia’s wildlife officials find themselves hoping for good deer-hunting weather.

This time it’s for the two antlerless-deer seasons that remain on the calendar - the youth/senior/handicap season on Dec. 26 and 28, and the aptly named “family” season scheduled for Dec. 29-31.

Paul Johansen, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said agency biologists would like to see a good year-ending antlerless kill to make up for shortfalls in seasons held earlier in the fall.

The three-day October antlerless season produced only 5,373 whitetails, about 1,200 fewer than predicted. The 12-day antlerless-deer hunt held during the late-November firearm season for bucks produced just 18,301, 18 percent fewer than were killed during the disappointing 2014 buck season.

“If the mild weather holds up, we should be OK,” Johansen said. “I think we’ll get good participation in these late splits of the season, and it’s entirely possible we’ll make up some ground.”

If that occurs, the two seasons will have done exactly what they were originally intended to do - help the DNR reduce whitetail populations in areas of the state where the animals are overabundant.

In 1992, agency officials found themselves in quite a pickle. A huge snowstorm blew through the state during the traditional antlerless-deer season. Hunters didn’t kill nearly enough deer to meet the DNR’s management goals.

The agency’s director at the time, Ed Hamrick, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to hold a few additional days of antlerless-deer hunting during the days after Christmas. It worked. Hunters turned out in good numbers, and they killed enough whitetails to keep DNR biologists happy.

Hamrick set the seasons up so that families home for the holidays could enjoy hunting together. Johansen said the hunts have become Yuletide traditions for many Mountain State families.

“Former director Hamrick did a lot of good things, but this one stands out,” Johansen added. “This was his brainchild, and I think he was onto something here. It’s been very successful through the years.”

The two seasons might be short in duration, but Johansen said they’re perfectly timed to take advantage of an annual West Virginia phenomenon.

“They capitalize on the fact that a lot of people who have moved outside the state come home for Christmas or for the Christmas-New Year’s break,” he explained. “Those people seem to enjoy having an opportunity to get out and deer hunt. For some families, it has become part of the holiday tradition.”

Even if the weather stays good, Johansen said this year’s antlerless harvest might not rise to last year’s levels.

“This year’s (antlerless-deer) bag limits were somewhat more conservative than last year’s,” he pointed out. “The decline in last year’s buck kill triggered automatic bag-limit reductions in several counties.”

Some of the counties that had three-deer limits in 2014 were reduced to one-deer bag limits this year. Johansen said the number of affected counties might be relatively small, but a two-deer reduction in the limit “was bound to have an effect.”

“Still, if the weather cooperates, I think we’ll have a splendid year for deer hunting overall,” he said. “And I look to see the success of the various deer seasons continue in the future.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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