Virginia's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

Virginia's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Top Hunting Areas

Last year, Virginia hunters killed a record number of deer. Here's where the data says the best hunting is. (October 2008)

Hunters across Virginia took a record 241,576 whitetail deer last season, even without including the late special archery and firearms season. This figure is up more than 7 percent from the 223,198 deer taken in the previous season. Biologists in Virginia were thrilled to see that for the first time on record the doe harvest outpaced the antlered buck harvest.

Photo by Bill Lea

Matt Knox, Deer Project manager for the VDGIF, commented on the doe harvest, saying, "Most of the increase in the deer kill was an increased doe kill, which was up 13 percent. There were no regulation changes. We have had mast failures increase doe kills before, but only in far western Virginia and the increased doe kill this year was across the board. I think nearly 40 of 98 counties had record doe kill levels."


The number of antlered bucks harvested was 109,275. Hunters also shot 22,808 button bucks (probably in most cases mistaking them for does), making a total of 132,083 bucks tagged. There were 109,493 does killed. The doe harvest accounted for 45.3 percent of the total harvest, while the total antlerless harvest was 54.8 percent.



Breaking the harvest down further, we found that crossbow hunters arrowed 8,594 deer, which was up from the 7,051 deer taken the previous season. It was interesting to see that the percentage of does arrowed (52.8 percent) with a crossbow exceeded the percentage of bucks. Archers took 17,433 deer, and of those, 54.6 percent were does. The combined archery kill (all archery tackle) was 26,027 deer, with 54 percent of them being does. Crossbow users accounted for 3.5 percent of the harvest, while archers arrowed 7.2 percent of the total harvest. The combined numbers show that archery hunters claimed 10.8 percent of the total harvest. Again, these figures do not include the late special seasons, which were not available at press time.

This past season, the muzzleloader harvest was 55,689 whitetails. Only 35.9 percent of the smokepole deer, however, were does. The muzzleloader harvest did increase 6.2 percent from the previous season, when the harvest was 52,216 whitetails. Shotgun hunters tagged 70,254 deer and 49.6 percent of that harvest consisted of does. Rifle hunters took down 88,763 deer, of which 45.3 percent were does. Finally, pistol or handgun hunters killed 340 deer, with 51.5 percent of them being does.


Each season when we run this forecast, we encourage readers to look at our accompanying chart showing the number of deer killed per square mile of habitat in counties across the state.


Of the top 20 counties on our list, 14 had also been on the list the year before. New counties this year were King and Queen (9.8), Giles (9.6), Orange (9.1), Powhatan (9.0), Madison (9.0) and Northumberland (9.0).

We took the time to examine the harvest from last season and get comments from the biologists in each region about the upcoming season.

TIDEWATER REGION
Tidewater hunters took 59,037 deer last year. This represents nearly an 8 percent increase in harvest over the previous season's total of 54,571 deer. There were 24,075 antlered bucks taken, 7,155 button bucks and 27,807 does.

Nine of the top 20 counties for deer harvest per square mile in the state come from the Tidewater area. The habitat is varied in the region and the soils are very fertile, with much of the land being dissected by tidal rivers. This is ideal deer country. Take note of the counties making the top 20 list on our accompanying graphic. Many are clumped in the Middle Peninsula area.

Galon Hall, VDGIF wildlife biologist, works the northern half of this region. He noted that more does are being harvested in the Middle Peninsula and in the Northern Neck, which helped push the harvest totals up. He hopes to see the trend continue into other areas nearby.

Our biologist also pointed out that the Rappahannock River Valley NWR has a public deer hunt on most of its tracts. There are open dates for archery, muzzleloader and shotgun. See the hunting and trapping regulations brochure, or go to the refuge's Web site for details at www.fws.gov/northeast/rappahannock/hunting.html.

When looking for good deer habitat in the Tidewater Region, it is important to look for areas where there are good mixes of fields, cutovers, thickets and hardwoods. The areas where the different habitats blend together are likely spots to find deer sign.

Farther south in the region, wildlife biologist Todd Engelmeyer had a few tips to share as well.

"Surry, Sussex, Southampton and a portion of Prince George County have always seemed to be the pride and joy of deer hunters in this area. It is a big area with a number of clubs that manage their deer herds very seriously," Engelmeyer said.

"The genetics in this particular region south of the James River is good and there are good agricultural lands nearby for the deer to capitalize on," Engelmeyer said.

Hunters looking for good public land to punch a tag should contact the local military bases to find out about hunting programs. The bases located in and around the Virginia Beach area run their own deer management programs and offer hunting opportunities.

The VDGIF also has WMAs in the district that are managed for deer hunting. There are two in Surry, one in Isle of Wight and two in Chesapeake. Check out the Web site for more information: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wmas/?region=1.

SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
The Southern Piedmont is well known for large, robust whitetails. Last season, hunters took 58,303 whitetail deer, up 5 percent from the previous year. The harvest was composed of 28,307 antlered bucks, 5,178 button bucks and 25,088 does. The percentage of does was 43 percent, up 3 percent from the previous season. Bedford harvested more deer per square mile than any county in the region, but Powhatan and Amelia were also great destinations.

Dan Lovelace covers the entire western edge of the region, which lies in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He notes that there has been a steady increase in the deer population in the last three years. Every county he is in charge of has seen an increase in the harvest except for He

nry. In terms of numbers of deer killed, Lovelace pointed out that four of his counties made the top 10.

"Bedford was my top county in 2007. Three of the other counties, Franklin, Pittsylvania and Botetourt were in the top 10. From this you can gather that this area of the state is loaded with deer. We have lots of deer/vehicle collisions and are starting to get complaints from homeowners." Lovelace also pointed out that it is likely that the deer population is increasing because so much land is being broken up and developed, leaving many smaller parcels unhunted where deer are able to thrive.

The problem hunters may have in taking advantage of the robust deer herd is that most of the land in this district is private land. Access can be tough unless you do a lot of asking and looking around.

There are public land opportunities available through the national forest, which is not hunted that hard. Check the national forest lands in Amherst, Nelson, Bedford and Botetourt counties. Lovelace puts the deer population on these lands as fair.

If archery is your pursuit and you need a place to hunt, try one of these five WMAs: James River, Havens, Turkeycock, White Oak Mountain and Fairystone Farms. They experience little archery season pressure.

Lovelace reminds hunters that the Earn-a-Buck regulation is in effect in Bedford, Franklin, Roanoke and Patrick this fall. The VDGIF is hoping that this will increase the doe harvest to better manage the herd.

VIRGINIA'S TOP 20 COUNTIES
COUNTYDEER HARVESTED PER SQUARE MILE
200520062007AVERAGE
Loudoun13.8413.4512.913.39
Charles City10.4911.9611.911.47
Lancaster8.8010.4911.710.33
Southhampton9.5610.8011.510.62
Clarke10.6010.9411.410.98
Bedford9.6711.0911.210.65
Essex9.709.7111.010.14
Fauquier11.6910.2810.610.86
Surry8.8410.4510.59.93
Richmond8.569.5610.29.44
King & Queen7.27.89.88.27
King William8.659.879.79.07
Giles7.28.19.68.3
Rappahannock8.809.209.59.17
Frederick9.188.939.49.17
Amelia7.369.079.38.58
Orange7.47.59.18.0
Powhatan7.47.99.08.1
Madison7.67.49.08.0
Northurnberland6.97.49.07.77

Cale Godfrey oversees the majority of the counties in the eastern part of the region. Godfrey noted that despite an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), the harvest in his district increased last season. This marks a change from the mid-'90s, when liberal either-sex regulations and EHD outbreaks resulted in reduced deer populations and harvest levels. Since 2000, harvest levels and either-sex hunting days have increased. As the herd continues to rebound, further increases in either-sex hunting days may be possible.

Godfrey noted that Amelia and Cumberland have plenty of farmland, and some farmers are seeing increased crop damage. Hunters might start hitting up farmers for a place to hunt. Additionally, hunters should consider checking out Fort Pickett if they need a place to hunt. The deer densities on the post are good.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN
Last season, the region experienced an 11 percent increase in the harvest to 41,459 tagged deer. There were 19,745 antlered bucks killed, 3,335 button bucks shot and 18,379 does harvested; the does accounted for 44.3 percent of the total harvest.

Bill Bassinger works the central district in the region. All of his counties include national forest lands. In his conversations with hunters, Bassinger said that it appears that the deer herd or harvest is declining on some national forest land, while on private land it is increasing. Bassinger also noted that there is now an avid following of archery hunting, although muzzleloader season continues to grow in popularity. This fall, hunters will enjoy an extended early muzzleloader season that will bring the entire state in line with the same hunting dates.

Bassinger commented that if hunting public land, hunters should take a serious look at the national forest in Wythe and Bland counties and the WMAs in Wythe, Smyth, Washington and Carroll counties. Clinch Mountain WMA is massive but offers good hunting prospects. Stewart's Creek and Crooked Creek WMAs are smaller but still offer well-managed lands for taking a deer.

Betsy Stinson also manages the deer herd in this region and points out that Giles was a good county for hunting. There is a good mix of open land, forest and young woodlands that helps the deer herd thrive.

Stinson notes that the drought last summer brought many deer out of the woodlands and into the fields, where they were more susceptible to harvest. Stinson said that in Carroll and Floyd counties there were a number of complaints from farmers about agricultural damage from deer. With the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby (which is a no-hunting area), the deer are protected until they venture away. Hunters might want to look for farmers weary of crop damage and seek private lands located not far from the parkway. She encourages hunters to take a doe when legally possible.

NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
As expected, this region also experienced an increased harvest. There were 36,241 deer harvested, of which 17,076 were antlered bucks, 2,578 button bucks and 16,587 does. The does accounted for 45.8 percent of the harvest. The best deer hunting in this region are the northern tier counties of Frederick, Clarke and Warren on private land.

David Kocka, the biologist covering Augusta, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, reported that there were no real big changes from last season for hunters.

"Private lands are better for hunting, although it can be tough to find access unless you begin to ask early in the season or even in the summer. The harvest and population appears to be stabilizing in the Central Shenandoah Valley," he said.

There is, however, one exception: the urban areas. Kocka is hoping that more hunters will harvest does in these areas. Check out the cities and towns opting in to the urban archery program at www.dgif.virginia.gov/ hunting/urban-archery.asp.

Farther south in the region, hunters are focusing more on private land than the available public land. With recent mast crops being spotty or failing, the deer have taken more to agriculture and hunters have likely shifted with the deer. The mast crop is very important to deer in the mountains.

Al Bourgeois works in Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties and pointed out that public lands that have seen recent cutover are good areas to hunt. Look for areas timbered in the last 10 to 15 years and particularly lands that are adjacent to private farmlands. Check with the local Forest Service office to inquire as to the most recent timbered tracts.

Bourgeois also recommended taking time off during the early muzzleloader season to bag a deer.

NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
The Northern Piedmont harvest was up 7.3 percent from the previous season. There were 20,342 antlered bucks taken and 4,562 button bucks tagged. The doe harvest of 21,632 animals made up 46.5 percent of the total take by hunters.

This region is perhaps the fastest developing part of the state, making it tougher and tougher for hunters to find tracts of land to hunt. Although the best hunting appears to be in the northern and western portions of the region, there exists great hunting in the suburbs of northern Virginia too.

Hunters should be sure to try public land, such as Quantico Marine Base, Ft. Belvoir and Merrimac WMA in Prince William County. All three areas are loaded with deer and they need to be thinned out. The entire region has very liberal doe days that hunters may use. We also spoke to Mike Dye who works the region. Dye recommends hunters consider trying northern Albemarle (north of I-64) or Fauquier County.

"These areas have high populations of deer, and hunting permission can be somewhat easily obtained.

"Dog hunters can be very successful in most of the areas as well, especially in young pine plantations, which are common in Spotsylvania and Louisa counties. Dogs are particularly helpful during December when deer movement has slowed," he added.

All of the biologists we spoke to feel that the upcoming season will be a good one for hunters that do some scouting. Take a doe or even a few does this year and enjoy the great hunting this fall!

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