Public Lands & Waters photo

Panther State Forest
: southern West Virginia
Size: 7,810 acres
ZIP: 24872

“It’s not great deer habitat, like you’d see along the Ohio River or southern Illinois, that makes these deer big,” says Keith Krantz, a wildlife biologist for West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. “The main component of deer size in southern West Virginia is age.” Much like R.D. Bailey, Panther’s oak-hickory hardwoods are draped across extremely rugged terrain in McDowell County. Drops and rises between ridges range from 500 to 1,200 feet on average, and by all indications deer have taken advantage of the daunting climbs to live long and prosper.

Bluestone Wildlife Management Area
: southern West Virginia
Size: 18,019 acres
ZIP: 25951

To be legal here, bucks must boast a minimum 14-inch spread. The antler restrictions started last year and drastically reduced the firearms harvest of immature bucks from 60 per year to 16. The steepest terrain borders the Bluestone River, with the bulk of the acreage made up of rolling uplands and flat bottomlands. In addition to food plots, 400 acres of forest openings and old fields are cut back to maximize browse. A late frost and a down year for mast suggest that the new crop of mature bucks will be hitting these cutbacks hard before the rut.