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The hunting of white-tailed deer in West Virginia is a cultural, social, and economic phenomenon that transcends all other types of hunting in the state. Most West Virginia counties close their schools during the entire first week of the traditional buck season; those that remain open often have too few students for in-person instruction. The closure is officially called ‘‘Thanksgiving break,’’ but unofficially the reason is the lure of deer hunting. Many West Virginians take time off from work.

West Virginia holds a variety of deer seasons, including archery, antlerless, muzzleloader, and bucks only, with the last the centerpiece. Our deer hunters have a long tradition of being primarily buck hunters, often to the dismay of wildlife officials, who would prefer a more balanced reduction of deer populations. Typically, about one in 30 West Virginians buys a license to deer hunt, down from one in seven at the beginning of the 21st century. A majority of those buy that license specifically for buck season. More than 200,000 licensed hunters, including non-residents, take part in deer season. Counting landowners who hunt on their own property and youth under 14, none of whom are required to carry licenses for bucks, an estimated 300,000 hunters hit the woods in late November. Deer hunters are predominantly men.

Surveys have shown that deer hunting in West Virginia generates more than $300 million in annual retail sales, with 50 percent of that amount spent in buck season. The economic impact of deer hunting is especially important in rural areas, where 64 percent of our population lives. Also, 78 percent of our deer hunters come from the rural areas of the state.

The social aspect of buck season is significant. Family members gather for the hunt, much as they would for a traditional holiday, and friends and associates make buck season the occasion for a yearly gathering. The old-time mountain deer camp of lore and legend is largely gone, however, because hunting opportunities have spread throughout the state. The custom now is ‘‘backyard hunting,’’ that is, staying at home to hunt. The increase in the deer population in West Virginia, as elsewhere, is startling. Our deer numbers have rebounded from a low of approximately 1,000 in 1910 to current estimates of more than 800,000.

In 2022, the deer harvest was a 12.7 percent increase over 2021 and 12.2 percent above the five-year average. The leading buck harvests were in Greenbrier, Preston, Randolph, Ritchie, and Jackson counties. A total of 48,938 bucks were harvested statewide during the traditional buck firearm season, in addition to 31,669 antlerless deer, 32,850 deer during urban and regular archery and crossbow seasons, 4,566 deer during the muzzleloader season, and 583 deer during the Mountaineer Heritage season. While increasing, these numbers still indicate a significant decline since the beginning of the 21st century.

This Article was written by Skip Johnson

Last Revised on November 20, 2023

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Sources

Allen, Tom & Jack Cromer. "White-tailed Deer in West Virginia," Bulletin. West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, 1977.

Cite This Article

Johnson, Skip "Deer Season." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 November 2023. Web. 15 June 2024.

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