Your Ticket to Great Public-Land Deer Hunts

There are plenty of great public lands across Virginia that hold managed deer hunts each season. Find the managed hunt near you!

Photo by Jerry Amos

By Mark Fike

Virginia deer hunters are never very far from an opportunity to bag a deer on public land. Be it military lands open for deer hunting, state parks, VDGIF lands or Fish and Wildlife Service property, there are 2 million acres of public land in Virginia where hunters play a role in managing the deer herd.

Many of the hunts have their own set of rules and regulations concerning firearms, gear that is permitted and methods of hunting allowed. Managed hunts do require an application and small fee and have a deadline in the late summer or early fall months to apply. However, the extra effort put in to fill out an application, qualify with a firearm and possess a hunter education card will often result in a great place to hunt and put venison in the freezer.

Read on to find the hunt that fits your schedule and desires in your region.


This managed hunt is one of the most interesting hunting experiences in the state. Back Bay NWR has nearly 2,007 acres of hunting land divided into zones. Feral hog and whitetail deer are fair game during the hunt. False Cape State Park boasts 4,000 acres of huntable terrain and also encourages the take of feral hog and whitetail deer.

There is no limit of feral hog during the hunt, and the take is two deer per day at either location. Both locations coordinate their hunts on the same days and with the same regulations.

Hunters wanting to hunt Back Bay NWR need to fill out an application (available in late July) and mail it in by the first week of September to take part in the computer lottery. The application fee is $5 and the hunting fee is $10 upon arrival. Hunters are assigned dates and zones (preferences are noted on application).

Getting drawn for the hunt at Back Bay is not difficult. There is a maximum of 64 hunters scattered through seven zones each day. Hog Island is a zone unto itself. Hunters who get drawn for Hog Island must bring their own portable boat (which they must be able to carry to the water). There is no room in the parking area for boats on trailers. A non-ambulatory zone is also available.

Of the 361 hunters that applied on a total of 232 applications (some hunters paired up on applications), 245 hunters were selected by the lottery to hunt.

According to Walter Tegge of USFWS, hunters who would like to be sure of hunting Back Bay should be willing to apply for later dates in the season.

Hunters can get into the hunt by standby lottery too. The standby lottery is held each morning at 5 a.m. On each day, eight hunters must fill each zone. If the zone is not filled, a simple drawing is conducted to select any additional hunters needed to fill all zones. Tegge commented that hunters willing to try for a standby slot for the last several days of the hunt are almost assured a spot on the refuge.

As of press time, Back Bay and False Cape are planning their hunt for Saturday, Oct. 2 through Saturday, Oct. 9. Scouting would be permitted sometime during the week prior to the hunt.

Last year, a total of 41 deer were harvested at the managed hunts at Back Bay NWR and False Cape State Park for the week of hunting. There were also 97 hogs harvested. Taking a hog is a bonus, as they are very good eating.

Back Bay NWR permits shotguns and bows for hunting both whitetail deer and feral hogs. False Cape State Park also allows muzzleloader rifles for their portion of the hunt.

To request an application, please call the refuge office at (757) 721-2412 or check out the link at

False Cape State Park can be reached at (757) 426-7128 for more information on their hunt and for an application. In order to hunt at FCSP, one must complete a lottery registration. The number to call is (800) 933-PARK (7275). More information can also be obtained at the DCR Web site: (follow the links to state parks and hunting opportunities).


Chippokes Plantation is one of the oldest continuously farmed plantations in America. It is located in Surry County along the James River. The Southern Heritage Deer Hunt, to be held on Nov. 20 this year, features three traditional meals, a blessing of the hounds, rides to and from hunt stands and a butchering service for those successfully bagging one of Chippokes' whitetails. There will be deer dogs running in this hunt provided by Bacon's Castle Hunt Club.

Morning and afternoon assignments for the 30 stands are determined by lottery held on the grounds. Hunter safety certification is required, and only buckshot-loaded shotguns are permitted. Participants must be at least 12; those younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Fees: $325/adult or youth aged 16 or older with a separate stand; $200/child, ages 12-17, if the stand is shared with a paying adult; $50 per non-hunting companion. Each hunter may take up to two deer per day, but only one of those deer may be an antlered buck.

The dates for the remaining two hunts are Nov. 23 and Dec. 7. The second hunt consists of the hunter being taken to a stand and left, and then picked back up later in the day. There are no dogs running. Only one gun is permitted per stand. Reservations for this hunt need to be made ASAP at a cost of $15 per person.

Overnight accommodations are available to registered hunters by calling the park at (757) 294-3625. Camping is permitted. There are sites with electric and water hookups ($23 per night) and primitive tent camping ($18 a night). A bathhouse is available with hot showers.

Call the reservation number (800-933-PARK) to determine if there are any slots left for either hunt.


James River State Park offers hunters 1,000 acres of intensively managed land to hunt. Hunters are allowed to move around in an open-style hunt and are not restricted to a specific stand. Hunters may use a muzzleloader, rifle, bow and arrow or shotgun (buckshot only).

Reservations are obtained by calling the State Park Reservation Center. Reservations are limited to two reservations per call for either one person for two days or two people for one day. Each reservation costs $15, payable by credit card or receipt of a check within 14 days of the pho

ne call. (800) 933-PARK (7275). Reservations generally begin Sept. 1. Hunters may also participate in a standby drawing on the day of the hunt. Standby hunters will be charged $15 to hunt.

Officials expect to have six days of hunting during primitive weapons season and eight days during the general firearms season. There are 15 hunters permitted to hunt the park per day. Safety zones are posted around facilities and areas where hunting is not permitted. In addition, there are two zones that can accommodate disabled hunters. These zones are such that hunters may drive to the zone. Most zones do require hiking.

Each hunter may take two deer. One must be an antlerless deer, which can be tagged with a DMAP tag. Hunters must have a hunter education certificate, be 16 or be accompanied by a non-hunting adult who has a hunter education card.

Specific information, including hunter's permit, pre-hunt scouting, check-in times, set of complete rules and regulations, zone maps, and directions to the park will be sent as a packet to the hunter, following completion of the reservation.

Last season only 70 hunting slots were filled of the 210 available. Park officials point out that the weather may have been a factor.

According to park manager Mark Schuppin, there were 31 deer taken by the 70 hunters. Eighteen were does and 13 were bucks. The largest buck was a mature 8-point buck with an 18 5/8-inch spread and dressed out at 147 pounds. Although dogs are not permitted as part of the managed hunt, hunters often work together to man drives.

James River State Park is located in Buckingham County. The terrain consists of rolling foothills. Habitat is roughly 60 percent pine and hardwood forests with the remaining 40 percent in grassy fields. James River State Park can be reached at (434) 933-4355.


New Kent Forestry Center offers disabled hunters a great opportunity to take a deer on their managed hunt. This year the hunt dates have been set at Nov. 20, Dec. 6, 13, and 20. Two of those days are set aside for local hospital patients. Reservations are accepted after Sept. 1 by calling (804) 966-2201.

The 700 acres of wetlands, pine thickets and hardwood lots have 24 accessible stands. Hunters may bring an assistant, take two deer a day (buck or doe) and expect to see deer. Last year there were 34 deer harvested. This hunt is a real treat for participants because the forestry center provides food and drivers for the hunt. Sometimes dogs are used. Hunters may only use a shotgun loaded with buckshot. This is the 12th year that the hunt has been held. Information may be obtained by writing to: 11301 Pocahontas Trail, Providence Forge, VA 23140.


York River State Park suffered tremendous damage from Hurricane Isabel last year, and the hunt was cancelled. Employees are still cleaning up from the hurricane as of press time, but feel certain the hunt will be held this year, barring any more hurricane damage or other disasters.

Thomas Cervenak is York River's park manager. Cervenak told us that the park is on a reservation system, where each hunter can make two reservations per call. These reservations can be a reservation for one day for two hunters or two days for a single hunter.

As of press time, Cervenak estimates that reservations will be taken beginning Sept. 15 at (800) 933-PARK. Reservations to hunt will cost each hunter $15 and are on a first-come, first-served basis.

The muzzleloader and archery season is scheduled to run on the following dates: Nov. 4, 5, 11, and 12. The park will allow approximately 30 hunters per day for this hunt. The shotgun season (buckshot only) is scheduled to run Dec. 9 and 10 with approximately 43 hunters per day. These dates are estimates and are subject to change.

York River State Park offers hunters 1,800 acres of habitat to hunt. The habitat and terrain varies from upland hardwoods with steep ravines to marshland near the York River.

During the 2002 season, hunters took 20 bucks and 17 does in six days of hunting on the property. In the past, DMAP tags were available for hunters taking does. Management reserves the right to change the harvest practice at any time.

Muzzleloader and archery hunters must hunt from a portable stand 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. For more information on York River State Park, call (757) 566-3036.


Hunters hailing from Northern Virginia have a great opportunity to harvest a deer in their own backyard. Occoquan Bay NWR, Mason Neck NWR and Mason Neck State Park hold their managed hunts in conjunction with each other. Officials from the national wildlife refuges, the state park and VDGIF meet and set dates and harvest goals each spring. In the past, Mason Neck NWR and the state park have held their hunt over a three-day period, with two days in November and one day in December. Hunters must pay a $10 fee with their application, which is due by Sept. 1. There is also a $20 fee to hunt.

Hunters must qualify with their shotgun loaded with buckshot. Clark Brothers, Shooters Paradise, Bull Run Regional Park Shooting Center, Gilbert Small Arms Range, Inc, and Arlington-Fairfax Izaak Walton League will qualify hunters for a small fee. Hunters must have a big-game license, state license, and attend an orientation/safety session. Those with mobility limitations are welcome to the hunt. Scouting is done on a designated day prior to the hunt. This date has not been set as of press time.

Each season, there are approximately 270 permits issued to hunters. Hunters will find flat terrain with thick vegetation scattered over the 2,200 acres of huntable land. Joe Witt, wildlife biologist for Mason Neck NWR, reports that the deer numbers appear to be in good shape. The managed hunts have helped biologists reach their goals to keep the herd healthy.

Hunters who are successfully drawn to hunt will be assigned one of 18 parking lots. From the assigned parking lot, hunters may hunt wherever they wish provided they walk or hike. The park is in the DMAP program, and does or bucks (limit of one) may be taken. Last season, hunters took 115 deer at Mason Neck. In the past, all hunters (whether selected or standby) who attended the orientation have been able to get permits.

Occoquan Bay NWR is planning on having two days open for Generation or a Women's Hunt. The third hunt day will probably be a general firearms hunt. Last year, hunters took 32 deer at Occoquan Bay. Hunters that are selected for the hunt at Occoquan are assigned to a specific stand and must remain at the stand during the hunt. Otherwise the terrain, rules and regulations are the same as they are for Mason Neck. Hunt dates have not been set yet. Hunt notification will be sent to last year's hunters. New hunters should contact the

Refuge at (703) 490-4979 this month for more details.

Applications with the $10 fee must be postmarked or arrive no later than Sept. 1 for either of the two hunts. Applications may be in the form of a 3x5 card with the applicant's full name, address and phone number. Complete information can be obtained by Potomac River NWR Complex, 14344 Jefferson Davis Highway, Woodbridge, VA 22191. Call (703) 490-4979.

* * *

As readers can see, managed hunts offer a great opportunity for those without a place to hunt. The bag limits at managed hunts are liberal, with most permitting the take of an antlerless deer. Managed hunts are also a great place to take young hunters, as it is assured that the environment will be controlled and safe. With many different dates and locations, hunters have a variety of choices for this fall. Good luck filling a tag!

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