2017 Virginia Deer Forecast
September 21, 2017
Not since 1998 have Virginia deer hunters killed as few deer as they did last season. There are many factors that impact the harvest and hunter success rates, and Matt Knox, VDGIF's Deer Project Coordinator, shed light on the decline in the harvest. One factor is that in many areas of the state it is not necessarily desirable for hunters to kill more deer every year. Increasing harvest generally means the herd is increasing in number, but after a point either the habitat cannot support more deer, or deer-human interactions outside of hunting become a problem for farmers and people driving cars.
In Virginia, the overall plan for balancing the health and numbers of the deer is called Virginia's Deer Management Plan. It's the guide that wildlife biologists and officials use to make decisions on management of the deer herd in Virginia. Managers and biologists have to balance the desires of many diverse groups: hunters, wildlife viewers, farmers, automobile owners/drivers and the impact of deer on the ecosystem. Both carrying capacity (the number of deer the habitat can effectively support in a healthy manner) and cultural carrying capacity (the number of deer the population of people in a given area will tolerate) are factors that drive management decisions.
POPULATION AND ACCESS TO HUNTING
In many areas of the state, the plan has called for stabilizing or reducing the deer herd. A growing human population or urbanization is often one reason for such a goal. Virginia's population has been growing at a rate of 1.4 percent each year, with much of that growth in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Norfolk. Very few areas are seeing a decline in human population, and those are generally rural areas.
As population and development continue, deer hunting access often shrinks substantially, along with the number of deer that hunters kill. Because hunting is by far the single best management tool biologists have for controlling deer populations, often it is only through urban archery opportunities that deer can be controlled in densely populated areas.
Deer hunters should consider urban archery opportunities in available areas. Hunters might lease or make long-term friendships/investments with landowners to ensure they will have a place to hunt on private land in upcoming years.