These seven public land draw hunts offer excellent chances for bagging venison this year. Here's what you need to do to get in on the hunting.
Photo by T.C. Flanigan
With urban sprawl gobbling up farms across Virginia, public land hunts are becoming a hot ticket for putting venison in the freezer. This month, we'll look at seven public lands with worthwhile draw hunts.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge offers hunters wanting a unique experience a chance to hunt for sika "deer," which are really a species of elk, as well as whitetail deer. Hunt zones provide a mixture of dune grass, shrub, upland maritime forest, fresh water marsh and salt marsh. Rubber boots and even hip boots are a good idea for hunters here, as is insect repellent or a bug suit.
Archery hunt dates are set and will include Oct. 3-5 and 17-19. Firearms hunting will take place on Dec. 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, and Jan. 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, and 13.
Scouting time is permitted the Sunday prior to the hunts. Mandatory orientations are held on the Sunday and Wednesday prior to each firearm hunt and on the Sunday prior to archery hunts. Whitetail deer are only permitted to be harvested the first week of the hunt. Hunters must take an antlerless white-tailed deer before harvesting an antlered white-tailed deer.
The application fee is $5 and, if the hunter is drawn, he must purchase a $20 permit to hunt Chincoteague.
Hunters are selected by a computerized lottery with only one application accepted per hunter. Letters are mailed out the next day to successful applicants. Hunters are then assigned a zone. Up to five hunters fill a zone. Some zones are shotgun and muzzleloader only. Other zones are regulated by state laws, which do allow rifle hunting.
Typically, the refuge receives 400 applications. Last year, 167 hunters were selected from those applications. There are standby slots available, but that number varies each year.
Last season, hunters took 252 sitka during the archery and firearms hunt. A total of 103 were "bulls" or bucks with an additional 148 "cows" or does. Seven hundred hunters participated in the managed hunt. Hunters also harvested a total of 21 whitetails. Six were bucks and 15 were does.
Additional information can be gleaned from the refuge Web site at
http://chinco.fws.gov/hunting04-05.htm. Hunters may also call the refuge at (757) 336-6122, write to Chincoteague NWR, 8231 Beach Rd., P.O. Box 62, Chincoteague, VA 23336 or fax (757) 336-5273.
Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve Adult Lottery Hunt
Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area is located on the eastern shore in Northampton County approximately six miles southwest of Eastville. Advance reservations are required to hunt at Savage Neck Dunes. The application is available at
www.dcr.virginia.gov/parksor by calling 1-800-933-PARK. The hunt dates for the 2005 season are Dec. 5-10 and Dec. 12-17.
According to Dot Field, each successful applicant will be assigned one hunting day during the two-week hunt period. Successful applicants will have the option of purchasing one to a total of five permits for their hunt day, allowing each hunter to form a party consisting of themselves and up to four other hunters.
"The applicant will serve as 'chief of party' and distribute permits to each hunt party member and will be responsible for all payments to DCR. The chief of the party will also be responsible for ensuring all hunt party members abide by the hunt rules and regulations," she added.
Hunters may harvest two deer per day. However, the hunting party must harvest a doe first in order to be permitted a buck. The entire preserve, consisting of 298 acres, may be hunted. There are no public facilities or established trails. Because vehicles are to remain on designated roadways, hunters should bring a dependable drag rope to drag out harvested deer. The terrain is rough with deep sand and thick underbrush. Hunters are permitted to use shotguns with slugs or buckshot only. All hunters must have a valid state license as well as a Hunter Education Certificate to hunt at Savage Neck Dunes
The deadline to apply for this hunt is Oct. 7. Successful applicants will be notified within two weeks of the drawing. The cost to apply is $5. Hunters will be charged $10 per hunt-party member (non-refundable), due to the Division of Natural Heritage by Nov. 4.
Hunters wishing to scout the Natural Area may do so by calling the DCR-Division of Natural Heritage Eastern Shore Region office at (757) 787-5576 or by e-mailing Dot.Field@dcr.virginia.gov.
Last season, 11 healthy deer were taken and hunters provided positive feedback concerning their experience to Dot Field at the Natural Area.
York River State Park
Thomas Cervenak is York River's park manager. As of press time, Cervenak estimates that hunt reservations will be taken in September; the phone number is 1-800-933-PARK. Reservations to hunt are on a first-come, first-served basis. The central reservation system permits hunters to call and request a hunt date and a specific stand. Each caller can reserve either two stands (one for a friend or family member) or two different days of hunting, per call. Each stand, or day of hunting, requires a $15 fee at the time of reservation.
"Scouting days for our hunts typically begin two weeks before the first hunt, at which time hunters can come out during normal park hours (8 a.m. to dusk) and scout the stands they have chosen. In past hunts we allowed two deer per day per hunter, one of which must be antlerless," Cervenak pointed out. As of press time, the final details were not available.
York River State Park offers hunters 1,800 acres of upland, hardwoods with steep ravines and wetlands located near the York River.
Muzzleloader and archery hunters need to plan on bringing a portable stand. Stands must be at least 10 feet off the ground. Other rules and regulations for hunting at York River State Park are issued to hunters who make a reservation for a hunt.
Muzzleloader hunts are likely going to be held over a span of four days in November. while shotgun hunts will be in late November or early December for two days.
During the 2004/2005 season, hunters took 25 deer. The average harvest for six days of hunting is 43. Cervanek noted that that on five of the six days of hunting last year, the weather was "terrible."
"This can be a problem when you are locked into specific days and can't change dates," he noted.
One in four or one in five hunters usually t
akes a deer. Cervanek also commented that the deer harvested last season were records for the property in terms of size and antler growth.
For more information on York River State Park, call (757) 566-3036
James River NWR
The James River National Wildlife Refuge is one of many national wildlife refuges now open in Virginia to hunting. James River NWR consists of 4,200 acres of pine and hardwoods. Last season, hunters harvested 32 deer at James River NWR, a figure that was up from the previous year.
This year, the archery hunt will be held on Oct. 1, 3-8, and 10-15. The deadline for applications will be Sept. 19. Scouting dates for archers is now set at Sept. 10-17.
The muzzleloader hunt is scheduled for Nov. 5 and 12, while the shotgun hunt will be held on Nov. 19, 21, 25 and 26. Both the shotgun and muzzleloader hunts are first come, first serve with no application deadline. Scouting dates for shotgun and muzzleloader hunters will be Oct. 22-29. Daily hunting permits cost $10. Archers may purchase a seasonal permit for $50.
Getting a slot to hunt at James River NWR is fairly easy, as approximately 80 hunters are permitted to hunt per day. From Hopewell, follow Route 10 East for approximately 7.5 miles. Follow signs for Flowerdew Hundred Plantation. Turn left on Route 639. Proceed for approximately one mile. Take the first left. The road leads directly to Refuge Check Station. Call (804) 829-9020 for more details.
Presquile National Wildlife Refuge
Not far from James River NWR is Presquile NWR. Presquile is situated on 1,329 acres of swamp, hardwoods and grasslands. The island hosted its first hunt in several years during the 2004/2005 season. Fifty deer were taken with shotguns. This year the refuge will be having their hunt on Nov. 23 and Dec. 3. Hunters will apply to hunt to the refuge and be drawn by lottery. The scouting date is set up to take place Oct. 29.
Sixty hunters will be permitted to hunt each day. Prospective hunters may contact Cyrus Brame at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 11116 Kimages Road, Charles City, VA 23030-2844 or e-mail him at
firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call (804) 829-9020.
Caledon Natural Area
Caledon is a 2,579-acre natural area in King George and is dedicated to the preservation of habitat for the American bald eagle. Caledon has been using managed hunts to control and improve the health of their deer population for more than seven years. The terrain varies from hardwoods to pine forests, with some open areas. Some areas of Caledon are off-limits to hunting, and scouting stands are not allowed.
Hunters must possess an issued reservation confirmation letter, have a Hunter Education Certificate and be 16 years of age by the start of the hunt (or be 12 to 15 years of age and be accompanied by a non-hunting adult who possesses a Hunter Education Certificate). Both individuals must have Caledon Muzzleloader Qualification Cards.
The muzzleloader hunt is scheduled for Nov. 9-11. Hunters may phone in their reservations in October to the State Parks Reservation Center, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275). Reservations will continue to be accepted up to two days prior to the beginning of the hunt (if space is available). Hunters may only reserve one spot. Each reservation costs $15, payable by credit card over the phone or by mailing in a personal check within 14 days of making the reservation. The reservation must be paid in full prior to the hunt. You will be assigned the next available stand for the date requested. Reservations are non-refundable and non-transferable.
Successful applicants will receive a hunt packet within two weeks of payment receipt. The packet will contain complete information about the hunt. Hunters making reservations less than one week before the hunt may need to obtain hunt information at the park. On the day of the hunt, you will check in at the park check station, as directed in your hunt packet. There are stand-by drawings held to fill no-show slots. The stand-by drawings will be held each morning at 5:15 a.m. and each afternoon at 1 p.m. Stand-by hunters will pay a $15 fee to hunt and must meet the same eligibility requirements as regular applicants.
The 2005 muzzleloader qualification will be held on Sunday, Oct. 2, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Northern Virginia Gun Club. Qualification consists of demonstrating familiarity and competence with your firearm by loading and firing three shots. Two out of the three must be on target. The target will be a 5 1/2-inch circle at 50 yards. Shooters will be provided with a chair and table. Scopes, sand bags and bench rests are allowed.
The Northern Virginia Gun Club is located on the south side of Route 218 in King George County. There are 20 stands available per day for the hunt. Stands are filled in order as calls are received at the reservation center and assigned randomly through a drawing for stand-by hunters. Hunters may hunt from the ground or bring portable climbing stands with them. A designated park official must approve all portable stands prior to use. Stands are checked each morning prior to hunters being put out on their stands. Hunters may take two mature deer. The park may have DMAP tags available to hunters who take antlerless deer. Hunters will be required to use their own tags (not DMAP tags) for any antlered deer harvested. Caledon has one stand designated for hunters requesting an "accessible" stand. These stands are such that a hunter may be driven via golf cart style vehicle to the stand. Other stands require considerable walking. Contact Caledon by mail at 11617 Caledon Road, King George, VA 22485, by e-mail at Caledon@dcr.virginia.gov or by phone at (540) 663-3861.
Mason Neck NWR And Mason Neck State Park
Northern Virginia residents will be happy to know that Mason Neck NWR and Mason Neck State Park will be offering the public a chance to hunt deer on Nov. 17, 18 and Dec. 9 this season. Applications for the lottery hunt are available on Aug. 1 and are due on Sept. 1. The application fee is $10 and applications may be sent to prospective hunters via e-mail. In addition to the application fee there is a $20 fee for successfully drawn hunters. Hunters will be notified by Oct. 1 and scouting is set up for Nov. 6 this year.
Applicants must certify on a range and are limited to shotguns 20 gauge or larger and No. 1 buckshot or larger. Hunters using a 20 gauge may use No. 2 buckshot. To certify hunters must put at least three pellets in a 14-inch target with 000 buckshot, four pellets with 00 or 0 buckshot or five pellets of No. 1 and six pellets of No. 2 buckshot.
Only weapons and ammunition qualified with and listed on the certification card may be used or possessed during the hunt. No permit will be issued to any person not certifying on an approved range. Certification is good for three years and hunters with certification older than three years must re-certify.
One whitetail deer may be harvested, tagged and checked in before hunters are permitted to re-enter the field to hunt again. Deer must be field d
ressed but not processed when checked in. DMAP tags may be used for antlerless deer only. Hunters must use their own tags for all other deer. Hunters are encouraged to take does. If a hunter takes a buck with 3-plus points or a second buck after taking a spike, he may keep that deer, but his permit will be voided.
During the 2004/2005 season, 263 permits were issued. According to Daffny Jones, assistant manager of Potomac River NWR Complex, 82 hunters harvested 99 deer last year: 60 bucks and 39 does.
Call (703) 490-4979 for more information or to inquire about the nearby Occoquan NWR managed hunt.
Readers should note there are many more opportunities available for hunters across the state. We have simply highlighted some of the more popular hunts. Many state parks, National Wildlife Refuges and natural areas offer managed hunt opportunities. Call your local park or refuge to determine if opportunities exist for hunting near you.
Most of the managed hunts also encourage the taking of does, which means that hunters do not have to wait for a doe day to bag their venison. Some locations also provide DMAP tags for this purpose, saving the hunter a tag in the process. Public hunts are excellent places to bag a deer for the freezer or introduce a new hunter to our pastime. Good hunting!