- Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 March 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 02 March 2011 00:00
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Each spring I eagerly await the stats on the previous hunting season. I enjoy seeing the numbers and extrapolating the story they tell. This year was of particular interest because of several variables that impacted the behavior and harvest of big game. When the figures were released just before the weekend, I had several theories on what the data would show.
Throughout the season, reports about the hunting season were very odd. Some hunters in other areas of the state claimed they had observed
“piles” of deer bones indicating a winter mortality. Other hunters from all over the state reported that they were not seeing very many deer. Yet, other hunters were not seeing bucks at all and some saw only bucks. Still others saw plenty of deer but just did not see deer where they normally saw them. Given the rough winter and large amounts of snow we experienced last winter, many did think we had a winter mortality. The fact that the acorn crop during the 2009-2010 season was poor meant that the deer did go into the snowy winter in less than desirable shape. They were not able to put on as much fat as they normally do. Then the heavy snow hit.
Next, given the incredible acorn crop the state had this fall, many wondered if the animals simply had so much food they did not have to go anywhere and therefore were not readily seen.
My chats with biologists and examination of the data may shed some light and certainly more facts for readers to consider when coming to their own opinion.
Fort A.P. Hill (FAPH) hunters harvested less than half the deer they had harvested during the 2009-2010 season. The harvest report from FAPH stated that some of the harvest decline from 1,500 to 674 animals was due to a reduction/adjustment of either sex days, which was a response to the winter kill biologists observed there last winter. Part of the reason doe harvest days were adjusted was due to the reaching of management goals through harvests during the 2009-2010 season.
Senior Wildlife Biologist Ben Fulton also noted that the deer went into the 2009 fall season in less than stellar shape because of the very dry and hot conditions, which decreased plant nutrition. Add in the fact that FAPH saw a very poor acorn crop and you soon realize why there was some mortality last winter and a lower harvest this winter season. Typically when there is winter mortality due to weather and environmental conditions it is the fawns and yearlings that succumb first. The good news is that although the harvest was down this past season at FAPH, the condition of the deer being checked in was quite good and weights increased (likely due to a great acorn crop) as the season progressed.
On the other hand, Quantico Marine Base saw a very good harvest and as their biologist stated, “Our harvest was quite good and our herd was very strong.”
They did not see much in the way of winter mortality. Their harvest did increase but they also extended their hours for hunters on “mainside.”
As for other areas of the state, far western counties experienced significant snow cover for a long period of time. There was “some” fawn mortality, but it was not tremendous. Another problem with snow is that once it sticks around and gets ice crusted, the deer have a tough time moving through it, but coyotes can often skitter across the top of the heavy, ice-crusted snow and prey on deer, particularly fawns or old deer.
VDGIF stated that they expected the deer harvest to decline this year due to the acorn crop and meeting management goals. VDGIF has implemented increased either sex days for several years in most areas of the state to stabilize or even reduce deer numbers and it has worked in many areas. Record harvests, particularly of does, has led to declining deer herd numbers. VDGIF officials would not be surprised if the harvest declined slightly more over the next year or two. However, that does not mean that hunting will be poor. What it will mean is that deer health and condition should be good. Please keep all the above in mind when reading the overall stats. I hope to have the local stats in the next week or two for readers.
Last season 219,797 deer were taken. Of these, 95,543 were antlered bucks, 19,191 were button bucks and 105, 063 (47.8 percent) were does. The harvest dropped approximately 15 percent from the record 259,147 deer taken the previous season. Breaking the facts down further we see that in the Tidewater, which includes King George, the harvest went down 3 percent, which is a very normal fluctuation. The Southern Piedmont dropped 14 percent, the Northern Piedmont, 19 percent. Southern Mountain hunters dropped 28 percent and Northern Mountain hunters saw a 20 percent drop in kill. The mountain regions had the lowest deer harvest in over 20 years according to a press release by VDGIF.
The fall turkey harvest also declined significantly. There were 2,687 turkeys taken last fall. This figure dropped 24 percent from the previous season’s rate of 3,538 birds. Counties east of Blue Ridge saw a decline of 15 percent in harvest while west of the Blue Ridge hunters saw a whopping 34 percent decline. On the fall youth hunt day 37 birds were taken.
Biologists were not surprised by the numbers as the record acorn crop kept turkeys in the woods versus in the fields. Many deer muzzleloader seasons used to overlap fall turkey seasons but fall turkey seasons were adjusted to limit “incidental take” of birds. However, reproduction was reportedly below average for turkey meaning that the normally higher take of juvenile birds was not observed.
If anyone is interested in a breakdown of the harvest of deer by weapon or more info on the bear harvest across the state I would be happy to do a short piece on it. E-mail me and if I get a few people interested I will do it. In the next few weeks look for a breakdown of the local deer harvest and if possible the local turkey harvest along with a more in-depth discussion of observations and things I have heard from other hunters regarding the deer season.