Special deer seasons have expanded the time hunters can spend afield by four months. Here's how to get the most out of these special seasons.
Early and late special urban archery seasons offer hunters unique opportunities to help manage the deer herd -- and put some extra meat in the freezer. Photo by Mark Fike.
Virginia is blessed with a very generous deer season and bag limit. In fact, our state is a great example of how well hunters can work together to restore a species that once was a rare sight. Our deer herd is now approximately 1 million whitetails. Half a century ago, wildlife biologists faced the task of building a deer herd from few animals. Now, VDGIF wildlife biologists are working hard to fine-tune the deer herd population so that it does not exceed biological or cultural carrying capacity. One of those tools that may grow in importance over time is the Urban Archery seasons.
URBAN ARCHERY SEASONS
One of the tasks biologists have faced in the last eight years was encouraging hunters to take does instead of bucks. After decades of being taught to only shoot bucks, many hunters were having a tough time punching antlerless tags. As an incentive to hunters to take does, the VDGIF started an urban archery program in areas of high deer densities in 2002.
According to Nelson Lafon, Deer Project Coordinator for the VDGIF, "The urban archery season was initiated in 2002 to reduce deer-human conflicts in urban areas while providing recreation for Virginia sportsmen."
Originally hunters were permitted to hunt with a bow for antlerless deer during the last two weeks of September and for three months after the last day of firearms deer season.
According to Lafon, 11 localities participated in 2002-2003, 13 during 2003-2004, 17 during 2004-2005, 19 during 2006-2007, and 21 participated during last season. It is obvious that more urban areas are seeing the fruits of having hunters help control their deer herds.
Hunters also gained from the special deer seasons in more ways than putting some meat in the freezer. Some of the urban areas that had relatively small initial hunting zones have expanded the acreage available to hunters.
Even though the special urban archery season only netted a total of 227 deer harvested during the 2007-2008 season, the effect from those deer is significant locally, where deer may be involved in deer/human conflicts, such as vehicular collisions or plant and garden damage. As Lafon stated, the effect is greater than it may appear. Locally each deer removed is a tremendous help to landowners who suffer deer damage.
More and more hunters are seeing the special urban archery and special late firearms seasons as a good opportunity to get back in the woods either early before the season starts or late after a short break from the main deer season.
Lafon noted that during the last few seasons more than 60 percent of the harvest has come during the early September season, which was only two weeks long. That will change this year, as the early special antlerless-only urban archery season will now open the first Saturday of September. Season dates for urban archery are Sept. 6 to Oct. 3, 2008, and Jan. 5 to March 28, 2009, for those participating localities.
For specific information on the restrictions and regulations within each locality in the program, go online to www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/urban-archery.asp.
Most areas restrict the discharge of bows to only target practice and hunting, require elevated stands and written permission from the landowner and that the written permission has to be on your person at all times. Some have more restrictions, so please read before going afield.
EARLY ANTLERLESS-ONLY ARCHERY SEASON
A new season for Loudoun and Prince William counties is the early antlerless archery season, which runs from Sept. 6 through Oct. 3 to coincide with the early portion of the urban archery season.
LATE SPECIAL- FIREARMS SEASON
The late special firearms season was enacted in 2007 to address an increased need for more harvest of antlerless deer in high-density areas. These areas include Fairfax, Loudoun, Fauquier and Prince William. Readers will notice that three counties (not including Fauquier) also participate in the urban archery program, the early antlerless-only archery season, or are in the Earn-a-Buck program. Deer densities within these four areas are above the goals of the VDGIF's Deer Management Plan and it was decided to enact this season to encourage and recruit hunters to take a more active part in managing the deer herd through more antlerless harvest.
During the 2007 season, hunters participating in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William harvested a total of 1,205 deer, of which 1,009 were does. During the 2008 season, the total harvest in the three counties was 1,016, and the doe harvest was 853.
This is a significant number of additional deer culled from the herd where it is needed most. This season, Fauquier will be participating in the late special firearms season. That season now runs Jan. 5 through March 28, giving even more hunters the opportunity to take deer.
FIREARMS RESTRICTIONS AND OTHER REGULATIONS
There are restrictions on what firearms may be used during these seasons. The counties themselves set these weapons restrictions and the VDGIF merely lists the restrictions in its annual regulation booklet.
In Fauquier, all legal hunting firearms may be used. However, in Fairfax, only archery tackle (including crossbows) and shotguns with buckshot only (and only on private lands with a special landowner permit issued by Animal Control) are permitted. Firearms hunters in Loudoun will find that handguns, muzzleloaders and shotguns with slugs in certain areas (consult local authorities) are permitted to take deer. In some areas of the county, rifles are permitted. Hunters are encouraged to consult local authorities on the locations where each type of firearm is permitted. Finally, Prince William County hunters will find that shotguns and muzzleloaders are the only firearms permitted.
Hunters who spend time in the woods of Bedford, Fairfax, Fauquier, Franklin, Loudoun, Patrick, Prince William and Roanoke counties should also seriously consider taking a doe during the early antlerless-only archery season or the urban archery season, if available. Those counties have a new Earn-a-Buck regulation this season that requires that hunters take at least one antlerless deer before taking a second antlered deer on private land within those eight counties.
In addition, hunters in Bedford, Fairfax, Fauquier, Franklin, Loudoun, Patrick or Prince Wil
liam must take two antlerless deer before taking a third antlered buck on private lands within those counties. Taking a doe during the early antlerless-only archery season or the urban archery season counts toward that requirement. Think of it as pre-qualifying to tag an extra buck.
Keep in mind that only antlerless deer taken in these localities count toward the prerequisite, but antlered deer taken anywhere in the state also count toward the first or second buck harvested. For instance, if you hunt on a friend's property in Stafford County (south of Prince William and outside of the Earn-a-Buck localities) and harvest a nice buck during the muzzleloader season, then you must harvest an antlerless deer in one of the eight localities in the Earn-a-Buck regulation before taking a buck from those eight counties.
Not all urban residents are against hunting. I was surprised by the attitude of some people that were using the services of a horse-boarding facility I had permission to hunt. I was walking to a pasture with my rifle as they drove up in their decked-out SUV that had never seen any mud or dirt before. As they rolled down the window to speak to me, I thought I was about to get an animal rights lecture. After a brief conversation in which I was asked to take out as many deer with my rifle as I could before they ate up all the hay and pasture grass, I had a new perspective on things. Everyone can grow weary of the damage deer can do given the right circumstance.
The people I was speaking with said they had initially been against hunting, but once we started thinning the herd, they began to see deer less frequently and were grateful for our being willing to do what they did not want to do.
Although this article is appearing in the January issue, there is still the late urban archery season to consider, as well as the late antlerless-only firearms deer season. Let's do our job and help biologists manage the deer herd to the benefit of everyone.