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Treestand Naturalists

By Randy Tucker

Photo by Ron SnowIt’s 4 a.m. when the alarm rings. A light fog has developed during the cool mid-October night. The temperature at daybreak is about 40 degrees and weather forecasts predict cool clear skies. It is not only a beautiful fall day, it’s a very special day – the first day of deer archery season. A bowhunter eagerly waits for this day because he has spent many hours scouting, preparing and practicing. This is the day he has been waiting for since the close of the season last year. Excitement has been building since the bowhunters held their club meeting last summer. While talking to his bowhunting friends, he is encouraged about his chances to bag a deer with his bow this year.

Odds are good that he will do it too. Almost 60 percent of bowhunter cooperators (those who participate in an annual written survey) were successful during the last nine years.

He dons his camouflage clothing, gets his gear and heads off to the woods. He is using a new compound bow his wife bought for his 40th birthday. This new bow represents the latest in high-tech bow hunting. Fully equipped with Easton’s 2117 aluminum arrows and razor-sharp broadheads, this 65-pound-draw weapon can easily place an arrow in a four-inch circle 35 yards away. Since August, he has been practicing on 3D targets from an elevated stand, adjusting sight pins and his mechanical release, all in preparation for that one special moment.

A bow and arrow are not the only tools in his arsenal. Most likely he will use a grunt tube to call in a buck if the opportunity presents itself. Friends tell him that grunting can be very successful. Almost half of his friends who use a grunt tube have successfully called in a deer.

His day in the field is not by accident or ill-planned. Before the season, he carefully scouted several areas. He selected a new area this year because the place he had been hunting in years past is now posted. He acquired permission from a private landowner to hunt less than 40 miles from home. After carefully studying the area, he decided to place his tree stand next to a well-defined deer trail. Rubs and scrapes observed while scouting indicate where to place his tree stand for maximum concealment.

His tree stand also reflects modern advancements. Made of light-weight aluminum, he climbs 16 feet above the ground with ease. The safety harness is comfortably adjusted and he is ready for the day’s hunt. On average, he will hunt about three and one-half hours in the morning and about three hours that afternoon. He uses a cover scent in addition to his camouflage clothing to conceal his presence while hunting.

Today he is joined throughout the state by many avid bow hunters. An estimated 150,000 bowhunters participate in West Virginia’s archery deer season. His wife will also hunt, which is uncommon because only two percent of bowhunters are women. While afield they will observe all species of wildlife, making mental notes of wildlife sign and weather patterns. When they return home they will record their observations on a bowhunter survey form, noting the hours and locations hunted.

The above scenario describes a “typical” bowhunter as compiled from survey data conducted over the last nine years. Because bowhunters are excellent observers, they can provide valuable data to monitor wildlife species. That’s why the Division of Natural Resources initiated the bowhunter survey nine years ago.

Although deer are the primary targets, bear and turkey are also hunted with bow and arrow. Observations of bowhunters have proven to be an excellent predictor of fall harvest numbers for deer and turkey. While big game species are the driving force behind the survey, bowhunter observations of other wildlife species are equally important. Hunters don’t have to check in small game, so the abundance of species such as rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and coyotes must be monitored in other ways. The bowhunter survey provides a convenient, efficient means of monitoring these species. For example, coyotes are steadily expanding their range in the Mountain State. To date, bowhunter cooperators have spotted coyotes in 49 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. Likewise, the frequency of coyote sightings has steadily increased. It will only be a matter of time before the remaining six counties report sightings of coyotes.

Anyone who bow hunts in West Virginia during the deer archery season can participate. The survey allows the hunter to record daily observations from the beginning of the archery season to the start of West Virginia’s gun season, usually five to six weeks. In addition to the daily records, survey cooperators are encouraged to answer a questionnaire accompanying the survey form. Questions change each year and range from “type of equipment used” to “memorable experiences” encountered during the past hunting season.

Perhaps you are interested in participating but are uncertain of what is expected of cooperators. Before archery season begins, DNR personnel send cooperators a survey form and questionnaire to record daily observations for the upcoming season. Hunters are instructed to record the number of animals seen each time they hunt along with information regarding the county hunted, land ownership and whether or not the land was posted. Participants receive a report of the season’s findings. From this data, a wealth of information can be assembled to manage West Virginia’s wildlife.

This survey is conducted by the DNR and the West Virginia Bowhunters Association. The time and energy devoted during the past nine years have made this survey a success. We commend their efforts and always encourage participation from new individuals. The dedication of bowhunter cooperators have provided the DNR with a legacy dataset that will prove valuable for years to come.

Randy Tucker is a wildlife biologist stationed in Elkins.