In West Virginia, Deer season is open in the fall and early winter, from late September until the end of the year. The seasons follow the same dates statewide. However, bag limits differ based on the county you hunt in. The deer seasons are split into different types, including Archery, Buck Firearm, Antlerless Firearm, and Muzzleloader.
There are also two weekends for youth hunters and a special “Mountaineer Heritage” season in January. In this article, we will review the various seasons, licenses that may be required, and the rules for deer hunting in West Virginia. Before you go deer hunting in the state, review the current West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) hunting guide for current maps, license and stamp information, and current regulations. Each year the season dates or regulations can change, so be sure to review before each season.
Hunting License Requirements
To legally deer hunt in West Virginia, everyone must obtain a license. There are several different licenses available, depending on your age and the amount of hunting you want. If you do not live in West Virginia, you must purchase a non-resident license; a license from your home state is not valid.
Licenses can be purchased at retail agent locations throughout the state, at county clerk offices, online at www.WVhunt.com, or by phone at 304-558-6200. All hunters must have a base Hunting and Trapping license and a Conservation Stamp. There are also various types of combination sportsman’s licenses that include fishing and various other stamps or are valid for multiple years.
Lower costs licenses are available for children under 18 and seniors aged 65 and older. Lifetime licenses are available, with the cost based on the hunter’s age. The lowest-cost lifetime license is for newborns under the age of one. These gradually are more expensive as the child gets older.
The base hunting, sportsman’s, or lifetime license entitles a hunter to take one antlered deer during the buck firearms season. To take an additional deer or a deer in any of the other seasons, additional stamps must be purchased. To take an additional deer during the firearms season, an Additional Firearms Deer Hunting Stamp must be purchased. A Big Game Stamp allows hunters to take a deer during the archery, crossbow, and muzzleloader seasons. An Antlerless Deer Hunting Stamp allows hunters to take a deer during the Antlerless season.
Some stamps allow hunters to take additional deer during the Archery season and the Muzzleloader season. Bag limits vary depending on the county and season. However, there is a statewide limit of three antlered bucks each year. While hunting, all hunters should have their license, stamp, and a valid state-issued picture identification so they can be presented to a wildlife officer on request.
To purchase a license for the first time, anyone born after January 1, 1975, must present a certificate that shows the successful completion of a hunter education course approved by the Hunter Education Association or DNR Director. If you have taken a hunter education course in another state, it is likely valid. The classes are available in an in-person classroom setting or online.
If you have not taken the course and want to try hunting, an Apprentice Hunting license is available. This license allows you to hunt without completing the course and replaces the base hunting license. However, you must still purchase the required stamps as described above. While hunting, anyone with an Apprentice Hunting license must be accompanied by and supervised by a licensed adult.
Deer Season Types
In West Virginia, there are six deer seasons: Archery and Crossbow, Buck Firearm, Antlerless Firearm, Muzzleloader, Youth, and the Mountaineer Heritage Season. Archery season is the longest season and opens on the fourth Saturday in September and closes on December 31st. Buck Firearms season opens on the Monday before Thanksgiving and is open for two weeks.
Antlerless firearms season is open during the same time as Buck Firearms season, in addition to three other four-day weekends in October, early December, and late December. Muzzleloader season is open on the second Monday in December for one week. Youth season is split into two weekends. The first weekend is the third weekend in October, and the second is the weekend after Christmas. The Mountaineer Heritage Season is the second weekend in January and is open from Thursday to Monday.
Season Type Regulations
During each season, type hunters must use approved hunting methods and devices and have the required stamps mentioned in the license section above. Below are details on the requirements for each season:
Archery and Crossbow Season
Archery equipment such as longbows, recurve bows, compound bows, and crossbows may be used during the archery season. Bows must use arrows with broadheads with at least two sharpened cutting edges and be at least ¾ of an inch wide. Bows may not have a locking device that holds the bow at the full draw unless the hunter has a modified bow permit. Air bows are not allowed.
Crossbows must only have one string and working safety. They must have a draw weight of at least 125 pounds, bolts or arrows that are at least 16 inches long, have broadheads with at least two sharp cutting edges that are at least ¾ of an inch wide.
Note that in some public hunting areas, bows and crossbows may not be allowed. No firearms are not allowed during archery season.
Buck Firearm and Antlerless Firearm Season
During Firearms seasons, hunters may use a rifle, handgun, or shotgun that fires modern cartridge ammunitfon or an air rifle. Rifles must use centerfire or rimfire ammunition that is .25 caliber or larger. Handguns must have a barrel length of at least 4 inches and use straight-walled case ammunition of .357 magnum caliber or larger or bottle-necked case ammunition of .24 caliber or larger. Shotguns must fire single ball or slug ammunition. Air rifles must be .45 caliber or larger and fire a bullet 200 grains or larger.
During muzzleloader season, hunters must use muzzleloading firearms. Muzzleloaders are single-shot firearms that are loaded from the muzzle end of the barrel and must be at least .38 caliber or larger.
A firearm that has been converted into a muzzleloader by plugging the breech end of the barrel or a double-barreled or swivel-barreled muzzleloader is not allowed. Scopes and telescopic sights are allowed. Archery equipment, air rifles, or modern firearms that use cartridges are not allowed during muzzleloader season.
This season is for hunters at least eight and less than 18 years old. Any legal Archery, Crossbow, Firearm, or Muzzleloader described above may be used. Hunters between the ages of 8 and 14 must be accompanied by a licensed adult.
The adult must stay with the youth, may not hunt, and be close enough to give constant advice and assistance. Only antlerless deer can be taken during the youth weekends.
Mountain Heritage Season
This season is a special season when hunters hunt with primitive type weapons. These include Muzzleloading rifles and pistols with single-shot side locks or flintlocks with iron sights.38 caliber or larger. Longbows and Recurve bows are allowed. Compound Bows, Crossbows, air rifles, and modern firearms are not allowed.
Since this season is open in January, you must have a valid license for the following year.
Below is a list of key rules and regulations before deer hunting in West Virginia. This list is partial and not comprehensive. All hunters should read and understand all of the rules that may apply to them.
- Hunting is not allowed in state parks unless it is designated otherwise.
- Hunting on private land that is posted and/or fenced is not allowed without written permission from the landowner.
- Hunting with a fully automatic firearm is not allowed.
- Hours for deer hunting are limited to ½ hours before sunrise to ½ after sunset.
- Using electronic calls to hunt deer is not allowed
- Discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a school, church, dwelling, or park is not allowed unless the hunter is a dwelling resident or has permission from the owner.
- Shooting from a vehicle on a public road is not allowed unless you are at least 25 yards away from the vehicle.
- Taking a deer while it is in water is not allowed.
- Using any artificial light or any night vision technology while hunting, locating, attracting, or taking deer is not allowed.
- Hunting or harassing deer from an aircraft or drone is not allowed. Hunting from a boat is not allowed unless the motor has been completely shut off and forward progress from the motor has stopped.
- Disposing an animal carcass along any public road or highway is not allowed.
- Taking a deer and detaching or removing the head, hide, or antlers and leaving the carcass to waste is not allowed.
- Anyone hunting in a location where a deer firearms or muzzleloader season is open must wear a blaze orange outer garment at least 400 square inches.
- A hunter may take no more than three antlered deer during the regular deer seasons and the Mountaineer Heritage Season combined.
- An antlered deer is any deer that has at least one antler greater than three inches long above the hairline.
- It is illegal to bait or feed deer on public land or in a CWD containment area at any time.
While deer hunting safety should always be at the forefront since deadly weapons are involved.
Since there are restrictions based on your license, stamp, or county for taking antlered or antlerless deer, you must identify your target deer before taking a shot. Also, make sure of what is beyond your target deer. If you take a shot and miss, is there another deer you may hit instead?
You could possibly take the wrong deer and violate your bag limit by mistake. More importantly, ensure no roads or areas where people may be beyond your target deer. Hunters are responsible for every arrow or bullet, and making a mistake is not an acceptable excuse if someone gets hurt or you break the law.
Many hunters prefer to use an elevated position in a tree or other structure while hunting. A common misconception is that hunting accidents are usually firearm related. More hunting accidents occur from fall injuries while using a tree stand than any other hunting accident.
Using safe practices while using a tree stand is important to prevent a major injury. Understand your equipment and how to use it properly, and always inspect it the day before your hunt. Replace any missing parts and tighten any loose bolts or screws. Always use a safety harness and connect it to a safety line before climbing.
Most falls occur while the hunter climbs into or out of the stand. Do not carry any equipment while you are climbing. Instead, use a line to pull up or lower your equipment once you are safely in the stand. Make sure any firearms are unloaded and the barrel faces away from you.
Chronic Wasting Disease Concerns in West Virginia
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease that affects the cervid family of deer (elk, deer, moose, and caribou.) The disease is part of a family of TSEs (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy). CWD is caused by a mutated protein called a prion. There is no known cure or treatment, and CWD can not be detected in live deer.
The disease can only be found after the infected deer have been killed. CWD can spread from deer to deer through saliva, feces, urine, and other body fluids. The prions can also remain present in the environment for long periods. CWD has been found in many states and Canadian provinces and detected in West Virginia.
As of April 2022, 457 deer from Hampshire county, 14 from Hardy county, 25 from Berkeley county, ten from Mineral county, and nine from Morgan county have tested positive for CWD. If you see a deer that appears to be very skinny and sick, contact the nearest WVDNR office and report it.
Once CWD is in an area, it is impossible to remove it. To help slow the spread and contain the disease, the WVDNR has implemented a few key regulations. The DNR has discouraged supplemental feeding of deer statewide and has banned it in Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, and Morgan counties.
Feeding deer causes them to congregate in one area, which will promote the spread of the disease. Also, the DNR has put restrictions on the disposal and transporting of deer carcasses from Berkeley, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, and Morgan counties inside the CWD containment area. Hunters are not allowed to transport a deer carcass harvested in the area to counties outside the area. Hunters are also prohibited from transporting a deer carcass from another state where CWD has been detected into West Virginia.
To transport a deer harvested in both cases, the deer should be processed before entering or leaving the area. The meat should be boned out, no part of the spinal column or head should be attached, antlers are allowed with a clean skull plate with no tissue attached, and head mounts should have taxidermy completed.
While CWD is not known to affect humans, public health officials recommend that hunters avoid exposure to CWD. This includes wearing gloves while field dressing a deer and thoroughly washing your hands and tools. Have your deer professionally processed, if possible, have your deer tested for CWD, and do not eat the meat from a deer that has tested positive.
Tagging and Transporting
Once you harvest a deer, you should immediately complete a field tag that contains the hunter’s name, address, hunting license number, and the date, time, and county of the harvest location.
The tag does not have to be attached to the deer as long as the hunter that harvested the deer remains in possession of it. Immediately upon arriving at a residence, camp, lodge, or vehicle, the field tag should be attached to the deer. Within 72 hours of the harvest and 24 hours of the season’s close, all hunters must check their deer with the DNR.
This can be done online at www.wvhunt.com, at a licensed agent, or by phone by calling 844-WVcheck. After answering a series of questions, a DNR ID number will be provided. This number is proof that the deer has been checked. This number must be recorded on the tag attached to the deer, and the tag must remain on it until it is processed for consumption.
Fines and Points
Hunting illegally or illegally in West Virginia can result in fines, loss of hunting privileges, and even jail time. Anyone guilty of negligent shooting can have their hunting license revoked for five years. For other various violations, points are assigned. Once a hunter reaches 10 points, their license can be revoked for two years.
Some examples are: illegally killing a deer – 6 points, hunting from a vehicle – 6 points, and most other violations – 4 points. Also, if a hunter illegally kills a deer, they must pay a fine for the replacement value of the deer. The fine can range from $500 for an antlerless deer to up to $10,000 for a buck with antlers that have a 20” spread.
This fine does not include any court costs or lawyer fees you may have if your case goes to court. Even if you are an experienced hunter, review and understand the rules and regulations for deer hunting in West Virginia each season before you go on your first hunt. Making assumptions that the rules are the same as last year or the same as your home state if you are a nonresident could be a costly mistake.