Lawmakers receive update regarding 2023 deer, turkey, and bear archery and firearm hunting totals

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, on Wednesday, received an update regarding the 2023 spring turkey harvest, as well as preliminary results from last year’s big game harvest. On-hand to present was Steve Rauch, Division of Natural Resources (DNR) assistant chief of Game Management. 

“The spring turkey harvest for 2023 was 12,217 birds,” Rauch told committee members. “That was approximately 30% higher than the 2022 spring gobbler harvest.”

Despite the increase in turkeys collected in the spring of 2023, according to Rauch, preliminary results show fall buck harvest numbers to be down somewhat from the previous year. 

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Assistant Chief of Game Management Steve Rauch is sworn in during the Wednesday meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“State total was 45,155 bucks,” Rauch said, noting that the current number is approximately 7.5% below 2022’s harvest. “If you’ll remember, during the 2022 season, those first two days were ‘bluebird’ deer hunting days. This past November was different. Rainy, windy – those first three days are very important for the harvest. The majority of the hunters are out, and poor weather conditions can impact the harvest.”

With a harvest of just 21,917, Rauch added, preliminary results for archery and crossbow-hunters also show significantly lower totals – approximately 32% lower.

“This year was a good mast year,” Rauch said. “That tends to spread the deer out, and can lower the harvest, so those were anticipated.”

A “mast year,” as defined by Merriam-Webster, is, “A year in which a tree or shrub (such as an oak, hickory, or hazel) growing in a particular region produces an unusually large number of fruits, seeds, or nuts.”

Rauch further advised committee members that while the antlerless deer firearm harvest of 30,368 was “slightly below” 2022’s numbers, the 4,525 killed during muzzleloader deer season duplicated the previous year’s harvest almost exactly. And the fall turkey harvest of “just shy of 1,000” represented a 3% decline from 2022.

“What can impact that is brood production,” Rough said. “The spring brood production, in good years there’s more birds out there available. In poor brood years, there’s less birds. The spring brood production has an impact on the fall turkey numbers.”

The most significant fluctuation in year-over-year totals occurred during bear season; both in archery, and in firearms. The 1,581 bear harvested shot in 2023 using a firearm equates to a 27% increase over 2022, while the 974 harvested during archery season represents a 79% decrease in that same time period. To speak more regarding bear harvest totals, Rauch deferred to DNR Biologist Colin Carpenter.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Biologist Colin Carpenter gave testimony pertaining to the 2023 bear harvest during the Wednesday meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“We offer a variety of early (bear hunting) seasons currently,” Carpenter said. “This past season that we just came out of – the deep south, if we look at Mingo, Logan, McDowell, and Wyoming Counties – they had an early season that ran from Sept. 2 until Sept. 10. Then Raleigh, Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, and Nicholas had a season that ran from Oct. 7 through Oct. 13.”

“Traditionally, we’ve also had an early season that ran in our mountain counties that ran for a week in September, as well,” Carpenter continued. “Those seasons all allow dog hunting. We also have some non-dog hunting season opportunities in October, that coincide with antlerless deer hunting.”

Carpenter added that two youth, senior, and class two license bear hunting weekends are offered as well, one weekend in September, and one in October. Additionally, Carpenter advised committee members that an average of 96 bears are killed by motorists each year, further noting that many incidents go unreported. 

RealWV will provide continual updates throughout the duration of the 2023 Legislative Session. 

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