Everyday Outdoors: Date of rifle season opener can change hunt

As West Virginia rifle season approaches, hunters are considering many different factors when deciding where and how they are going to hunt. Things like the weather, the mast crop, hunting pressure, etc. can all make a difference in what a hunter should do.

One thing that I seldom hear mentioned is the date that opening day falls on. West Virginia gun season opens the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday in November, not necessarily the last Thursday, which means that Thanksgiving can fall anywhere between the 22nd and the 28th. That, in turn, means that the West Virginia opener can be anywhere from the 19th through the 25th. This can make a huge difference in deer activity, especially in areas with light hunting pressure. Let me explain why.

While it is possible to see rutting activity almost anytime from September through February, most intense rutting activity occurs from early to mid November in this area. It’s pretty easy to tell by the amount of deer, especially nice bucks, that get hit on the road during that time.

When gun season opens on the early end of the possible dates, the rut is usually still going strong. When it opens towards the end of the possible dates, the chase has often slowed way down.

How does this affect how I’m going to hunt? Well, if the season opens early, I’m going to try to watch as much area as I can, set up on funnels where rutting bucks are likely to pass through, or even watch open and grown-over fields. If the season opens later, I’ve found that the mature bucks are often on “lock down” with one mature doe, spending their time in the roughest, thickest terrain in a given area. They often don’t travel much at all. So, I will then concentrate on that type of cover.

I used to hunt a friend’s property in western Morgan County that contained nice open hardwoods and steep, rough hollows with rock ledges and laurel thickets. When gun season hit early, we often saw nice bucks chasing does through the open hardwoods. When it opened later in the month, the deer seemed to move much less, and stayed in the heavy cover.

This is also good to keep in mind for hunting later in the season, even when the season opens early.

Since West Virginia gun season opens on the 25th this year, I will be surprised if the rut is still in full swing. It won’t be over, but likely won’t be as intense as few days prior. I will adjust my hunting strategy accordingly. Of course, the deer don’t read “the book” or my articles, so your mileage may vary. Have fun. Be safe. Enjoy the outdoors in our beautiful state!

Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.