September marks the beginning of many hunting seasons, and officials at the W.Va. Division of Natural Resources are reminding hunters to prepare by scouting, inspecting equipment, and sharpening their skills.
“By late August you should be able to gauge fall mast conditions in the areas you hunt,” says Ethan Barton, a wildlife-biologist stationed in Romney. “Mast crop quantity is a good indicator of whether or not a hunting area will be productive."
Division biologists and managers each year conduct mast surveys statewide, and early indicators point toward a mixed mast crop: Deer, bear, and boar hunters should look for producing oaks or other desirable food close to bedding cover or habitat edges, and squirrel hunters should seek out producing oaks and hickories.
Barton says squirrels should be more abundant this year than during last hunting season.
“Hard mast production has a time-lagged effect on squirrel populations. More mast during the previous autumn means higher overwinter survival and more reproduction for squirrels the following year,” Barton said.
Pre-season scouting will help hunters locate the food and cover that game require, and those efforts should translate into better success and recreational experiences in season.
Another important pre-season activity for hunters should include practicing their craft and inspecting their equipment thoroughly before seasons begin.
- Archery and crossbow hunters should practice from heights, ranges, and angles that they expect to encounter. Bows, arrows, and bolts, broadheads, and safety equipment should also be inspected before being used. Improper tuning of compound bows and crossbows can hamper accuracy, and frayed strings may be dangerous. Broadheads that have been previously used should be sharpened or the blades should be replaced to ensure a humane, ethical harvest.
- Hunters who use tree stands should check their safety harnesses for damage or wear before they go hunting, and should follow manufacturer recommendations for time of replacement. Replacing a worn or damaged tree-stand safety harness could save your life in the event of a slip or fall.
- Rifle hunters should check their firearms for accuracy and practice shooting from various distances and positions they expect to encounter while hunting before seasons open to ensure proficiency. When sighting-in a rifle, shoot from a solid rest and be sure the rifle’s bore is clean before the shooting session. Barton says it’s also important to check ammunition for corrosion, uniformity, and quality, particularly if hunters have old ammunition that's a few years at hunting camp. If you’re trying a different load, remember that bullets of the same weight, but of different ballistic profiles (a pointed bullet versus a round-nosed bullet) often don’t shoot to the same point of aim. Impact points of similar loads from different manufacturers can also differ substantially, he says.
“Even if you’re confident your rifle is dead-on, take a few shots at the range to make sure you’re in the black,” Barton said. “You owe it to yourself and to the game animals you hunt to be as accurate and ethical as possible.”
If you have additional questions about regulations or seasons, call your local division district office between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.