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Virginia Game & Fish
Virginia's 2004 Deer Outlook

 


Our Best Hunting Areas
Where are the best places in the state to find deer this season? Here’s what the harvest data says.

Articles published about deer hunting, turkey hunting and more... Nice shot as this hunter takes down a white tail deer.
 


By Mark Fiike
Posted Saturday, October 23, 2004

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Last season hunters combing the Virginia woodlands bagged 235,944 deer.

This is a substantial increase (10.3%) in the harvest over the previous year, and a new record. The number of deer tags sold to include resident, non-resident and youth tags tallied up to 237,402. That's nearly one deer per licensed hunter.

The figures that VDGIF had at press time were preliminary, and readers should be cautioned that overall numbers might be adjusted.

"We evidently got a very good female kill in Tidewater and in the Northern Mountains, which bodes well for controlling deer herds in these areas in the future," Knox said. He added, however, "We are not getting the female kill we need in some areas of northern Virginia and in the southwestern Piedmont."


That said, of the total harvest, antlered bucks accounted for 118,567 animals, button buck numbers were 22,295, while does accounted for 93,216, or 39.5%, of the deer harvested. Hunters took 1,866 deer hose gender was not recorded.

Biologists examine this data each spring and summer in order to make recommendations for future harvest regulations.

For instance, last season archers were able to continue hunting deer in specific urban areas that opted into the program during the new "spring" season that ended March 31. The idea was to increase the take of antlerless deer in areas where either the herd faced health issues due to high deer numbers or where human/deer conflicts, such as vehicle accidents, were unusually high.

On their 2004/2005 licenses, hunters will have two new and additional "antlerless-only" tags. Once again, biologists are hoping to encourage the take of does.

Matt Knox, deer program manager for the VDGIF, reports that in fact, hunters increased their harvest last year because they were willing to take more does.

"We evidently got a very good female kill in Tidewater and in the Northern Mountains, which bodes well for controlling deer herds in these areas in the future," Knox said. He added, however, "We are not getting the female kill we need in some areas of northern Virginia and in the southwestern Piedmont."

A second big change for deer hunters this year is the telephone check system. The new system will augment the current deer check program. Hunters will be able to punch out a spot on their deer tag, call a toll-free number and then write a number on that tag without ever leaving the field. This will hopefully eliminate the loss of tags as hunters drag their kill to the truck. Hunters will still be able to check their deer in personally at check stations.

Each year we analyze the data that VDGIF provides to show hunters the trends in harvests and the weapons used for the harvest. A close look at this data can help you decide where to go to fill your tags and enjoy a fruitful hunt.

Last season archers took 19,233 deer, which was 8% of the harvest. The archery harvest increased four percent.

Muzzleloaders also fared well, taking 53,294. This figure is 10 percent greater than last year's 48,468. But because the total harvest in the state increased, the percentage of deer taken by muzzleloaders did not increase. It was 22.5% of the statewide total harvest. The number might have been a bit higher, but a long string of days during the muzzleloader season were unseasonably warm, with some areas of the state climbing into the eighty-degree range. The deer were often moving at night during this time.

Weather also affected the mast crop last year. All areas of the state saw a decline in the quantity of acorns available. Some areas had a near-total mast failure, while others were spotty. Deer were forced to move more in search of food, making them visible to hunters. This is one of the reasons attributed to the high harvest last year. Some counties also saw additional doe days available to them, and hunters took advantage of this opportunity. Biologists report that Virginia should go into the current season with close to a million deer within our borders.

Each year we give readers a visual graphic and a chart depicting the top twenty counties in terms of deer harvested per square mile. While there is a chart which also shows the top twenty counties listed by the total harvest figures, biologists point out that the harvest figures of deer per square mile most accurately represent what a hunter can expect when hunting for deer. A large county such as Bedford has a harvest of 8,371 deer spread out over its lands and a harvest per square mile figure of 13.42, while a tiny county such as York, which has a smaller total harvest, offers hunters a chance at a dense deer herd, with 17.44 deer harvested per square mile!

This year there was a bit of a shuffle in the indices of deer harvested per square mile. Last year, Loudoun took the top slot with a whopping 22.79 deer harvested per square mile. York jumped up from ninth position to grab second with 17.44 deer per square mile. Bedford moved up to eighth position while Powhatan, James City, Prince William, Lancaster, New Kent and Roanoke moved into new positions on our top-twenty list.

With the exception of Powhatan, these counties are geographically very close to other top twenty counties. They bumped Warren, Highland, Craig, Montgomery, Accomack, and King William from the list.

TIDEWATER REGION

The Tidewater Region is an excellent destination for hunters hoping to fill a deer tag this season. Of the top twenty, six counties were from the Tidewater Region. Last season the Tidewater saw a stable harvest figure of 48,088 deer. Of this harvest figure, 19,660 (41.2%) were does. Antlered bucks accounted for 22,576 tags.

 

The Tidewater area is full of great habitat for deer. The rural areas are either farmland - which offers whitetails a great source of soybean, corn, or other crops - or swamps, oak lots and pine forests and thickets, all of which give deer great natural food sources and escape cover.

The lower peninsula area, which includes the counties of New Kent, Charles City, James City, York and Newport News, offers hunters very densely populated deer herds, and typically dense deer populations result in high numbers of filled tags.

Phil West is a biologist for VDGIF out of the Williamsburg office. He commented that hunters should not overlook the Eastern Shore counties of Northampton and Accomack.

The deer herd on the Eastern Shore is in excellent shape and the harvest allows for either sex the entire season.

"The Tidewater Region has been blessed with a very healthy and stable deer herd," West said.

Hunters can expect the same hunting opportunities this season as they had last season, barring any unexpected catastrophic events such as a massive HD outbreak.

SOUTHERN PIEDMONT

The hunting conditions and the deer herds in the Southern Piedmont Region are split geographically. The deer herd in the eastern portion of the region is in good shape with a good doe harvest percentage. The western portion of the region, however, is still seeing an increase in the deer herd - at or in some cases exceeding the carrying capacity of the habitat - and game managers would like to see hunters take advantage of the liberal doe days that are offered.

 

Jim Bowman, VDGIF wildlife biologist, pointed out that the liberal doe days are not doing what the department had hoped.

"Hunters appear to be favoring bucks in counties such as Bedford, as the antlerless deer kill is declining. Franklin, Henry and western Pittsylvania saw (only a small) increase in the harvest even though the doe days were doubled."

Hunters in these areas should really consider taking advantage of the extra antlerless tags that will be a part of their license this year. If the meat is not needed in your home, then consider donating the meat to Hunters for the Hungry or a neighbor that cannot get out to hunt.

Last season Southern Piedmont hunters harvested 53,424 white-tailed deer. This was the highest total of any of the five regions in the state. However, only 34% (18,109) of the deer killed were does. Biologists would like to see the figure closer to 45%.

"Hunters will find that if they harvest more does they will be happier in the long run with the quality of bucks that they see," Bowman added.

Bowman suggests hunters go to the region's top county, Bedford. Franklin is also another good destination for Southside hunters wishing to burn deer tags quickly.

The soils in both counties produce good deer habitat. The eastern part of the region is also a good place to hunt, with a more balanced herd due to the hunting pressure and liberal doe days that reduced the herd to a healthy level in the late 1990s. Hunters may see an increase in doe days in this area in the upcoming years as biologists fine-tune the herd.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN

The 2003 season was a very stable one in terms of deer harvest for hunters in the Southern Mountain Region. Hunters bagged 42,358 deer, which was only a slight decrease from the 2002 harvest of 42,860 whitetails. The doe harvest was 16,752, or 40 percent of the total.

 

The Southern Mountain Region saw three of its counties make it to the top-twenty list this season. Giles (11.75 deer harvested per square mile), Grayson (10.87) and Roanoke (10.10) are obviously good counties to hunt. However, Allen Boynton, one of the region's wildlife biologists, also suggests Craig County for hunters hoping to fill a tag. Both Grayson and Craig have high deer numbers.

Public land in the form of National Forest is plentiful in the region, although the habitat can vary from poor to good depending on the location.

"Bland, Giles, and Tazewell have relatively high deer populations as compared to deer numbers on other lands," Boynton pointed out. "The overall deer herd appears to be stable to decreasing on public land due to deteriorating habitat quality on National Forest lands."

The continued restriction of timber harvest is gradually making the public land forests older; over time that means less browse and less cover for deer. Private land hunters are seeing stable to increasing deer herd numbers in the region, and the deer herd is expanding in the extreme southwestern counties.

Last year the increased rainfall helped produce good vegetation in the late summer, but the winter food sources were scarce. This may affect the fawn recruitment for this year. Hard winters or lack of food during the winter due to a mast failure or poor mast crop impacts the health and ability of does to breed and drop fawns. Overall, however, this year hunters can expect a season much like last year's season.

NORTHERN MOUNTAIN

The Northern Mountain Region saw a slight increase in harvest, from 42,098 during the 2002 season to 43,021 in the 2003 season. Forty-two percent of the harvest was comprised of does. As one could expect after viewing the map accompanying this article, Clarke, Shenandoah, and Frederick are all good destinations for deer hunters.

 

David Kocka, a VDGIF biologist in the region, offers Highland as an additional destination for deer hunters.

The whole northern tier of mountain counties offer great deer herd numbers and are regulars on the top-twenty list.

Hunters in the northern portion of the rugged region enjoy stable but good deer hunting year after year. The habitat and the soils are the biggest reasons the deer numbers are so high. National Forest lands also offer good opportunities for hunters needing a place to hunt. Yet another factor impacting the deer herd in the region is the fast urbanization of the region, particularly in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Last year the weather was not great for wildlife in the region.

"Mast conditions were spotty to poor in the region last fall. Hopefully sufficient rainfall and no late frosts will help, but there are no guarantees," Kocka told us.

Despite the poor mast crop last year, hunters should still see plenty of deer this season. Kocka hopes that the liberal antlerless days will encourage hunters to take more does this season. Hunters, especially those visiting from nearby counties east of the Blue Ridge, should be aware of the fact that counties west of the Blue Ridge have a daily bag limit of one deer. It is not uncommon to see dozens of deer at one time in this region of the state.

NORTHERN PIEDMONT

Northern Piedmont hunters put 49,053 deer in the freezer last year. This is an increase of fourteen percent in the harvest, or 5,917 animals. Forty-two percent of the harvested animals were does.

 

Five counties - all from the northern portion of the state and bordering the top counties from the Northern Mountain Region - represented the Northern Piedmont on the top-twenty list.

The first four (Loudoun, Fauquier, Rappahannock, and Culpeper) have been consistent producers of good deer numbers due to the fertile soils and great habitat.

Prince William, however, is a newcomer to the top-twenty list. This county is very close to the four regulars to our annual report and has a great public land opportunity. Quantico Marine Corps Base has a large deer herd, as does nearby Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County. Both offer a variety of opportunities for hunters. Seeing and bagging deer in these counties is rarely a problem.

Getting permission to hunt on private land can be tough, though, as the area is suffering from urbanization from nearby Northern Virginia. Taking the time to get to know landowners, offering to do some maintenance or making some other trade for permission to hunt well before the season begins are smart ways to gain access to this incredible hunting region. Archers may find that tapping into suburban areas where the deer are plaguing landowners' gardens or plants is a good way to fill a tag.

As with the other regions in the state, biologists would like to see more does taken from the herd, especially from the top five counties in the region. Deer hunters will find plenty of deer this fall, but they may be in declining health due to the poor mast crop. There are no reported problems of diseases but there was a general lack of food last season and during the winter. The good news is that Fauquier now has a full either-sex season, as do Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William.

Hunters will find plenty of deer available this season no matter which region they hunt. It is important that we all help biologists by taking does and passing the small bucks in order to benefit the health of the herd. Take advantage of the liberal doe days this season and the extra pair of bonus tags on your big game license. Enjoy the blessing of additional venison in the freezer this fall and the time afield getting it. Good hunting.

 

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