The preliminary numbers are out and by all accounts, it was a bumper crop of whitetails all across the state. According to a report released earlier this week, hunters amassed a total harvest of 138,493 deer in 2015.
The 2015 harvest is a 32% increase from the previous year. Comparing the two years is a story of rags to riches.
The 2014 season was marked with an above average mast crop which meant that food was abundant and whitetails didn’t have to go far to fill their bellies, therefore, limiting their exposure to encounters with hunters resulting in harvest numbers far below normal.
The 2015 season saw a scarce mast crop making deer more mobile as they traveled far and wide in search of food. An active deer herd is a welcome sight to a hunter who is anxiously awaiting his quarry. The 2015 season was also graced with an abundance of good weather which is always conducive to getting hunters outdoors.
When the stars align like they did for the 2015 season, hunter’s success rates tend to tick upward and are reflected in the harvest numbers.
The 138,493 whitetails harvested last year were far better than those from the previous year but still a far cry from the record kill of 202,356 deer harvested back in 2002. Still the numbers were relatively close to the 5 year average and within the range the WVDNR sets for its goal harvest numbers.
A closer look at the numbers shows that 60,814 bucks were taken during the traditional buck firearm season. This is over 23,000 more than were harvested in the 2014 season, but still far less than the record 104,199 bucks harvested back in 2002.
Coming off a low harvest year, as in 2014, means that more bucks were available for the 2015 season. Add that to several years of consecutive good mast production and you have all the building blocks for a good crop of trophy bucks.
Last season definitely didn’t disappoint. Trophy bucks seemed to come out of the woods all over the state. There are even rumors of a potential new state record being taken with a rifle in the northern portion of the state. Time will tell once the rack has had the required drying time to be officially scored.
The antlerless harvest didn’t see the huge increase that the bucks did last season, but the harvest held steady at 39,853 deer being taken over all the antlerless seasons. WVDNR Director Bob Fala points out that, “It is important to note that the antlerless harvest is the key component to any deer management strategy, as it controls the future deer population.”
The one exception to the rule in 2015 was the muzzleloader harvest. Only 5,179 whitetails were taken with a muzzle loading rifle in West Virginia last season. This total was 6.5 percent below the 2014 harvest numbers.
One reason for the decreased harvest with the smoke-pole could be the unseasonably warm temperatures that persisted through the bulk of the 7 day season. Temperatures soared to near 70 degrees throughout much of the state during the mid-December season. Many hunters commented, “it was just too warm to hunt”.
Probably the most watched harvest totals for the 2015 season were the archery and crossbow totals. Together they accounted for 32,540 deer being taken throughout the mountain state. This is a 46 percent increase from 2014. This was by far the biggest increase across the various seasons.
The 2015 season was the first season for the use of crossbows during the archery season without any requirements for a special permit. The legalization of crossbow hunting has definitely generated a renewed interest in archery hunting in general and the harvest numbers showed that 37 percent of the total archery harvest were with a crossbow.
While this may explain some of the increase in the archery harvest, traditional archery still netted a respectable increase without the added numbers from crossbow hunters. The southern 4 “Bow Only” counties of Wyoming, McDowell, Logan and Mingo saw a huge increase, even though they are excluded from crossbow hunting and remain traditional bow only.
The bow only counties each increased by 50 percent with the exception of Mingo County which doubled its 2014 harvest number. Wyoming (1039) and Logan (924) counties even ranked in the top 5 counties by harvest statewide even without crossbows. McDowell County with 673 deer harvested and Mingo County with 579 deer harvested shouldn’t be too disappointed that they didn’t make the top counties.
So, when looking back at the 2015 season, even if you ate a little tag soup, it was a good year all across the state. Enough for reflecting on the totals from last year, it is time to get out and start looking for next year’s deer and there is no time like the present.
Roger Wolfe is an OUtdoor Columnist for Civitas Media. He can be reached at [email protected]