Which counties in West Virginia give hunters the best chance of catching a deer?
Well, it depends on what type of hunting you prefer. For example, if you want to catch a deer with a gun, statistics say you should go to Upshur County. If you’re an archery hunter, you might want to take a look at Berkeley County.
Each year, the state’s Natural Resources Division fills out worksheet after worksheet with data on deer hunting. Agency biometricians detail the number of white tails killed during male, antlerless, muzzleloading and archery seasons.
Harvest totals, based solely on the number of deer recorded by hunters, don’t always paint the most accurate picture.
For example, Preston County hunters killed a total of 5,574 deer in the four seasons of 2020. The total for the next closest county, Randolph, was 3,600, or 35% lower.
It would appear, based on the total harvest alone, that Preston County is by far the best deer hunting county in the Highlands State.
Preston is good. In fact, it is very good. But it is not the most productive.
Productivity, at least in terms of deer hunting, is best determined by the number of deer killed in a given area. According to the MNR Big Game Bulletin, Preston County contains 632 square miles of deer habitat.
Based on a total harvest of 5,574, Preston produced 8.82 deer per square mile in 2020.
That’s fine, but two counties – Upshur and Wood – produced at higher rates. Upshur gave 10.02 whitetails per square mile and Wood gave 9.05.
The other seven counties ranked in the top 10 white tail producers were – Barbour, 8.24; Monongalia, 7.93, Berkeley, 7.53; Lewis, 7.43; Morgan, 7.05; Mineral, 6.91; and Jackson, 6.75.
Overall productivity rates create a nice big picture, but they don’t give hunters a sense of what’s going on in their particular disciplines. What if a hunter specifically wants to take a deer during muzzleloading or woodless firearms season?
Again, statistics from the Big Game Bulletin show which counties produced the most deer per square mile for each discipline.
For dollars killed by guns, Upshur was the handily winner at 3.08 per square mile. Next on the list was Mineral at 2.79, followed by Barbour and Wood at 2.58.
The rest of the top 10 dollar producers were – Lewis, 2.55; Mason, 2.42; Jackson, 2.38; Monongalia and Marion, 2.36; and Morgan, 2.35.
For antlerless deer killed by firearms, Upshur once again tops the list with 3.74 deer per square mile. Preston came next at 3.23, just ahead of Wood at 3.21.
Lewis came next with 3.08, followed by Barbour, 2.88; Morgan, 2.56; Tyler, 2.44; Ritchie, 2.43; Berkeley, 2.40; and Jackson, 2.38.
During archery season, Berkeley was the surprise leader with 2.89 deer per square mile. Wood came next at 2.88, followed by Preston at 2.76.
The rest of the top 10 were – Monongalia, 2.75; Upshur, 2.60; Barbour, 2.22; Mercier, 1.88; Raleigh, 1.80; Morgane, 1.78; and Mason, 1.77.
The muzzle loader stats look paltry in comparison, but here they are: Upshur, 0.62 deer per square mile; Barbour, 0.55; Preston, 0.50; Lewis, 0.41; Marion, 0.40; Monongahela, 0.39; Nicolas and Wood, 0.38; mason, 0.30; and Morgan, 0.26.
Size matters for productivity. Small counties tend to have deceptively high averages per square mile. Ohio County, for example, would have placed in the top five in each category. With only 85 square miles of habitat, however, it produced too few deer overall to be truly considered a betting county. For the purposes of this article, a county had to have at least 200 square miles of habitat to be considered for one of the top 10 lists.
Four counties – Upshur, Barbour, Wood and Morgan – finished in the top 10 in all four categories. Four other counties – Lewis, Preston, Monongalia and Mason – made three top 10 lists.
None of the lists took trophies into account. Traditionally, the lion’s share of dollars eligible for inclusion in the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett Club rankings have come from the counties of Logan, McDowell, Mingo, and Wyoming, all of which have been closed to gun hunting since the end of the 1980s. 1970s.
These are typically published in the DNR’s Big Buck Club Rankings for a given hunt year, and at the time of publication, the 2020 list had not been released.