By Frank Jezioro – Director, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
Changes in the deer herd populations and the locations of these herds have drastically changed the deer hunting traditions.
I grew up in Marion County and back then, as in many counties, there were no deer, certainly not enough to hunt. The closest real deer country we had was in Preston County.
If you knew someone in the Kingwood, Bruceton Mills, or Tera Alta areas, you could hunt there and have a good chance of actually seeing a deer. In the Northern panhandle, the western counties and certainly the southern counties, deer were so scarce that you if someone saw a deer track he would gather his buddies to look at it.
Whereas in the past there had been good populations of deer in some of the southern coalfields around Wyoming County, they were devastated by overshooting of both does and bucks.
The First Week of Deer Camp, the Best Time of the Year
If you were a real deer hunter, you took a week of vacation time from work and headed into “The Mountains.” The mountains could be in Hardy, Grant, Pendleton, Preston, Tucker, Greenbrier, Hampshire or adjoining counties. You couldn’t get a room in towns like Romney, Thomas, Davis, Moorefield, or Petersburg unless you made reservations a year in advance.
Because of this, the “deer camps” came into being along with the real traditions of deer hunting. Deer season was a week long and took place the first part of December. Some of the greatest stories (even lies!) were born in the deer camps.
Groups of friends and relatives would go together, buy a small piece of ground located near a place where they could hunt and build small cabins that were plain to extravagant. Here at these camps they would gather a day or two before the opening morning.
They would scout the country, cook all sorts of meals, play cards, and be up until time to go out the next morning. Normally, one of the guys who enjoyed cooking would hang around the camp keeping the fires going while the hunters scattered across the countryside looking for a buck, as in the beginning, only bucks were shot.
In these mountain counties it was very likely you would have snow. I can remember one time in Preston County when the snow came the night before the season opened and it snowed and blew for two days. The result was that many hunters and their vehicles were trapped in Preston County around Cuzzart, where Black Bear Campground is now located. Some of those hunters had to be rescued by helicopter and their abandoned vehicles didn’t get out until spring.
Changing Society = Changing Hunting Conditions
Many of the small farms of the western part of the state were abandoned as young people moved into Fairmont, Clarksburg, Parkersburg, and Morgantown to seek jobs in the mines and factories. The forest began to reclaim the land.
When this happened, the land went through a stage best described as “brush.” This brush was actually the first stage of a regenerating forest. The young shoots turned much of the land into perfect whitetail deer habitat. This expanse of new, excellent habitat – when coupled with an expanding deer herd and some trapping and relocation by the DNR – meant that deer hunting opportunities were created in areas where none existed before.
Deer Hunting is Not Small Change
Deer hunting is not only a deep-seated tradition but also is big business for West Virginia. According to the records maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, deer hunting alone generates about $250 million a year for the state’s economy. Many of the small mom-and- pop type businesses scattered about the state tell us that they depend on the hunting season, and especially the deer season, for about 60 percent of their annual income.
The Best Change – Deer Hunting Opportunities Statewide
Through natural expansion and excellent management of the state’s deer herd we now have outstanding deer hunting in every county of the state. We have areas where there are too many deer and you can take both bucks and does to help reduce the deer population. We have areas set aside for bow hunting only. We have areas with antler restrictions for those who want to hunt for a true wall hanger. And this year, for the first time in state history, we instituted an early September bow season followed by a September muzzleloader season.
This year you should have no difficulty in putting some venison in your freezer. Check the regulations for the area you want to hunt, be safe out there, wear plenty of blaze orange and get out and enjoy the biggest single one day event in West Virginia, the opening of the deer season.