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Hunters bag bucks on W.Va.'s opening day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wildlife officials aren't sure whether hunters killed more deer than usual on Monday's buck season opening day, but they're certain of one thing -- most of the bucks had nice racks.

"We're seeing some really decent bucks," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, who helped operate a game-checking station in Raleigh County. "Not surprisingly, we're seeing a lot of smiles on a lot of hunters."

Johansen said Monday's weather -- clear and cool, with very little wind -- contributed to hunters' success.

"It's been so long since we had ideal opening day weather that I honestly can't remember how long it's been," he said. "I'm not certain how many deer are being killed, but I am certain the weather is helping."

Johansen said he and other biologists had been "pretty steadily busy" all day long, weighing, measuring and determining the ages of all the deer brought to their stations.

"We haven't yet seen any 'record-book' bucks, but we've seen a lot of 8- and 10-pointers," he said. "A lot of the bucks are 2 1/2 years or older, and those are the ones that tend to have better racks."

Kem Shaw, assistant wildlife biologist for the state's southwestern counties, said he saw much the same thing at his Putnam County check station.

"Most of the deer we're checking are at least 2 1/2 years old, and several have been 3 1/2," Shaw said. "We even had two bucks and one doe that were 5 1/2. We've seen a lot of bucks with 8-, 9- and 10-point racks."

Shaw said he remembers when almost all the deer killed during the buck season were only 1 1/2 years old and had scrawny antlers.

"Twenty years ago, 85 to 90 percent of the bucks killed were [1 1/2 years old]," he said. "That has changed pretty dramatically since we started allowing hunters to kill antlerless deer during the buck season."

DNR officials began allowing the antlerless-deer option during the 1997 season. Shaw said that since many hunters simply want venison for the freezer, they are more than happy to bag an antlerless deer if no antlered bucks happen within rifle range.

"Now [1 1/2-year-old] bucks make up only 50 percent of the harvest," he added. "That allows more bucks to grow to that 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old age at which they start growing pretty nice antlers."

Shaw said that as older-aged bucks have become more abundant, hunters also have grown increasingly reluctant to kill young bucks with inferior racks.

"Hey, if you see a spike buck and a nice 8-pointer at the same time, which one are you going to shoot?" he asked.

Hunters who brought their bucks to Shaw's station on opening day were apparently of that same mindset. Eight- and 10-point racks outnumbered spikes and 4-pointers by a wide margin.

David Clark of St. Albans said he only saw one buck on opening morning, but it turned out to be a 2 1/2-year-old with a nice 9-point rack. David Hobba of Buffalo and his hunting partner, Kyle Leadman of Hurricane, both killed 2 1/2-year-olds -- Hobba an 8-pointer and Leadman a 9-pointer.

Steven Gibson of Leon killed a 3 1/2-year-old buck that sported a heavy 10-point rack -- a true trophy. Gibson said he watched the buck chase a doe for nearly 45 minutes before it came within range of his .30-06.

"I think I'm going to have this one mounted," he said happily.

DNR officials expect hunters to kill approximately 60,000 bucks before the season ends shortly after sunset Dec. 1. They also expect hunters to take about 20,000 antlerless deer -- roughly half the annual antlerless-deer harvest.

With favorable weather forecast for most of the state through Wednesday, Johansen said hunters might exceed biologists' expectations.

"Most of the kill occurs on the first three days of the season and the two Saturdays," he said. "When we have good weather on those days, we generally enjoy a nice harvest."Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or email johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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