Last-Minute Draw Hunts in Virginia

Hunting season is upon us, and some are scrambling to find a place to hunt. Look no further than Virginia's reservation hunts at national wildlife refuges, state parks and natural areas to fill a tag!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Mark Fike


The Department of Conservation and Recreation coordinates the managed deer hunt at Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve, which is located on the Eastern Shore in Northampton County, by advance reservation only.

Not a lot of deer are killed here - but that's mainly because the number of hunters and number of hunting days is low. Last year twenty deer were harvested at Savage Neck Dunes. Feedback from hunters indicates that there are plenty of deer at Savage Neck Dunes. Youth hunters have been especially positive about their experience at the preserve.

If you want to know whether it's a good place to hunt, consider this: most of the hunters that reserved slots last year were satisfied hunters from the previous season. People who hunt here are likely to want to come back.

Hunt dates for 2004 are December 6-11 and December 13-18. The cost is a non-refundable $15 fee per permit.

Each caller may reserve a maximum of one hunting day. Reservation holders may purchase up to five hunting permits per day, allowing hunters to form a hunting party consisting of themselves and up to four other hunters for their hunt day. The reservation holder will be the Chief-of-Party and will be responsible for all payments to DCR and distributing permits to hunt party members.

Reservation holders will be sent a hunt packet, which will contain all information needed to participate in the hunt. There are a total of five hunters permitted at Savage Neck Dunes per day.

Savage Neck Dunes also coordinates a youth hunt. It is open by lottery to hunters ages 12-17 only. The date for this hunt will be November 20, 2004. To hunt alone, youths must be 16-18 years of age by the start of the hunt. If they are 12-15 years of age by the start of the hunt, they must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult. Both must have proof of successfully completing Hunter Education.

There are five spots available for youth hunters this year. Youth applicants must apply to the State Parks Reservation Center. Applications are due by October 16, 2004. A computerized, random drawing will be conducted to assign hunt zones. A $5 non-refundable application fee must be returned with the application. On the day of the hunt, a $10 Natural Area Preserve hunting fee must be paid. The youth hunt is shotgun-only, and no tree stands of any type are permitted. Hunters can kill up to two deer of either sex. All deer must be field-dressed prior to the hunter checking the animal in at the weigh station.

Successful applicants will receive specific information, including hunter's permit, pre-hunt scouting times and hunt check-in times, set of complete rules and regulations, hunt zone maps, and directions to the preserve within two weeks of the closing of the lottery.

For more information, call either 1-757-787-5576 or 1-804-371-6204.


Caledon Natural Area is located in King George County just east of Fredericksburg. The managed hunt at Caledon will run from November 10-12 this year. The only weapon allowed for hunting at Caledon is a muzzleloader rifle. All hunters must possess a muzzleloading qualification card. Qualifications will be held on Sunday, September 26, 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, table and sandbag.

The terrain at Caledon is optimal for muzzleloader hunting. Open, mature forest is the predominant habitat at Caledon. Towering hardwoods and poplar trees are the primary habitat that hunters will encounter. Hunters may harvest two deer of either sex. The park may issue DMAP tags for antlerless deer, depending on availability. According to Park Manager Nina Cox, sixty hunters took a total of eleven bucks and six does on the managed hunt last year.

Traditionally, the reservation period begins October 1; prospective hunters apply to the State Parks Reservation Center at 1-800-933-PARK (7275).

Hunters can draw here no more than once a season. Each reservation costs $15, payable by credit card over the phone, or by mailing in your check within 14 days of making the reservation.

Reservations are non-refundable and non-transferable. Hunters have a very good chance at getting into the managed hunt at Caledon. The trick is to be persistent with calling until you get through.

Once you secure a reservation, you are assigned (through a random drawing) a stand site. Portable stands must pass an inspection for safety purposes. Hunters must remain within fifty feet of their assigned stand. There is one "accessible" stand for disabled hunters who request it.

No-show hunter "slots" will be filled through a stand-by drawing at the park each morning at 5:15 a.m. and each afternoon at 1 p.m. Stand-by hunters will be required to pay a $15 fee to hunt. This fee will be charged each time an individual participates as a stand-by, and is in addition to and separate from any reservation fees paid for other days or other hunts. For more information contact or 540-663-3861.


Kiptopeke State Park, located in Northampton County, is a classic coastal habitat of the Chesapeake Bay: mixed hardwoods and pine bordering on the Chesapeake Bay. There are some old fallow fields in three of the four hunting zones. The area also borders an agricultural field that was abandoned last fall.

Kiptopeke is a forty-five-minute drive through the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel from Virginia Beach.

The managed hunt at Kiptopeke is a small one, only allowing four hunters per day for the four hunting dates. The park has four hunts zones at approximately 50 acres. Hunters must stay within their zones, which are clearly marked. Hunters must hunt from their own tree stand.

Last year hunters harvested sixteen deer in four days of hunting the four zones. Many people took their limit of two deer. Two nice bucks were taken. Managers encourage hunters to take does. Deer harvests are in accordance with state regulations. Two deer may be taken

per day with tags provided by each hunter. Kiptopeke is not in the DMAP program.

As of press time, the park had not set its hunt dates. Applications are taken in October. Typically, hunt days include two Saturdays during muzzleloader season and two Saturdays during regular firearms season. The number to call to apply for the lottery is 1-800-933-PARK. Call well in advance to allow for time to get the application and fill it out.

For more information and to find out the exact hunt dates, contact Joey Dayton, Chief Ranger at Kiptopeke State Park, 757-331-2267. The mailing address is 3540 Kiptopeke Dr., Cape Charles, VA 23310.


Farther inland, hunters will find great opportunities at Rappahannock River Valley NWR. Last year hunters on the Refuge killed fourteen deer over the course of the season. This year Rappahannock River Valley will offer an archery season, muzzleloader season and a shotgun season. You can acquire an application and further information about the hunts by calling the Refuge Headquarters at 804-333-1470 after May 1.

The NWR sets designated scout dates: August 23-September 3, September 18-24, and October 18-23 (not including Sundays). Hunters must reserve a scout date by calling at least 24 hours in advance.

The archery season is at the NWR October 2-16. Archery hunting will be held on several tracts: Hutchinson in Essex County, Thomas in Essex County, Mothershead in Westmoreland County, Tayloe in Richmond County, Laurel Grove in Richmond County, and Wright in Richmond County. Hunters need to apply for the archery hunt by mail or in person at the Refuge Headquarters. Applications are accepted beginning August 23. The mail-in application deadline is September 13 for the archery hunt; however, walk-in applications are accepted until October 16. Permits are $50 for the season or $10 a day.

The muzzleloader hunt will go on October 30 and November 6. The permit costs $10 a day.

Muzzleloader hunters wishing to scout may do so on August 23, September 3, 18, 20-24, and October 18-23, but again, hunters must schedule scouting trips at least 24 hours in advance.

Applications are accepted beginning August 23 by mail or in person at the Refuge Headquarters. The mail-in application deadline is October 11; walk-in applications will be accepted until November 6.

The bag limit is two deer, either sex, per day. The refuge asks that hunters please take a doe first. There are several tracts on the refuge that are open for firearms hunting. They include Hutchinson in Essex County, Tayloe in Richmond County, Wilna in Richmond County, Laurel Grove in Richmond County, and Wright, also in Richmond County.

The shotgun season is run the same way as the other hunts with the same tracts being open for hunting. Four hundred square inches of blaze orange is required for all hunters. The scouting dates are the same.

Hunting dates for the shotgun hunt are the following: November 13, 18, 19, 20, 26 and 27. The mail-in application deadline for shotgun is October 25; walk-in applications will be accepted until November 27.

Last season hunters took a total of fourteen deer on varied habitats, including hardwood forest, scrub, pine, and grassland. Hunters will find that the habitat is thick and that portable tree stands are a good idea.


The James River NWR hunts are coordinated by the Charles City Office of the NWR headquarters. They may be contacted at 804-829-9020 for an archery application after May 1. The land at James River NWR consists of pine and hardwood forest with few openings. Last season hunters took a total of 11 bucks and 8 does.

The archery hunt is the only hunt that requires an application and permit prior to the hunt. The scout dates for this hunt will be September 5-11. The hours open for scouting are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Hunting will be permitted October 2-16. Applications may be obtained via mail at the Charles City Office. The application deadline is September 13. The permit fee is $50 for a seasonal permit or $10 for a daily permit.

The Refuge is including a muzzleloader hunt this year. The muzzleloader hunt will be first-come/first-served from designated stand areas only. The scout dates for the muzzleloader hunt will be October 17-23, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The hunt dates are set for October 30 and November 1, 2004. The gates open on the hunt day at 5 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. The bag limit is two deer per day, either sex.

Once again, refuge officials ask that hunters take a doe if possible. Permits are $10 per day.

The shotgun hunt will be coordinated like the muzzleloader hunt. Hunting is from designated stands.

Hunters will be taken on a first-come/first-served basis. Scouting dates are the same as the muzzleloader hunt. The hunt dates are November 13, 15, 26, and 27. Permits cost $10 per day. The gates open at 5 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. The take is either sex, with an emphasis on taking does. All hunters using a firearm to hunt at James River NWR must wear a minimum of 400 square inches of blaze orange.

Directions to James River National Wildlife Refuge and Refuge Check Station: From Hopewell, VA follow Route 10 east for approximately 7.5 miles. Follow signs for Flowerdew Hundred Plantation. Turn left on Route 639. Proceed for approximately 1 mile. Take the first left. This road leads directly to the Refuge Check Station. Call 804-829-9020 for more details.


Presquile NWR, located in Chesterfield County, is a 1,329-acre island covered in pine and hardwood forest, grassland, and swamp habitat. After being closed to hunting since 2000, Presquile will open for shotgun hunting. Hunters are encouraged to take does while hunting at Presquile.

Hunting is from designated stand areas only. The scouting date will be October 23, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Access is restricted, so hunters should contact the Charles City Office 804-829-9020 for a meeting location to access the island.

The hunting dates are November 19 and 20. Permits are issued on a first-come/first-served basis and cost $10. Hunters must wear a minimum of 400 square inches of solid blaze orange.

The Rappahannock, James River and Presquile NWRs are all part of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Complex.

More detailed information on the Rappahannock River Valley Refuges and their managed hunts can be obtained by writing to Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 1030, Warsaw, VA 22572, or by calling the Refuge Office Phone: 804-333-1470.

More detailed information on the James River and Presquile Refuges and their managed hunts can be obtained by writing to Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Charles City Offi

ce, 11116 Kimages Road, James Charles City, VA 23030-2844 or by calling the Refuge Office Phone: 804-829-9020.


The Great Dismal Swamp NWR is located on the Virginia/North Carolina border. As the name implies, the land is primarily lowland marshes and is very thick.

Reservations for 750 hunters are taken by mid-September. As of press time, hard dates for the hunt were not set. Typically, however, hunting days include all Thursdays through Saturdays in October and the first weekend in November. In the past, the last Friday and Saturday in September were the scouting days.

Because the land is marshy, many hunters use hand-carried boats for crossing ditches in some areas. Hunters must check with the refuge for specific areas. Hunters must have permits to gain access to Dismal Swamp on hunt dates. Permit fees of $15 are non-refundable. A compass is also required.

The bag limit for whitetail deer is per state regulations depending on whether you are in North Carolina or Virginia. Hunters are cautioned that hunts may be cancelled for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, fire danger and inclement weather. Please call 757-986-3705 if the status of any scheduled hunt date is questionable. This number will provide the latest hunt information 24 hours a day, effective September 25.

Hunters may arrive at the refuge gate no earlier than 4 a.m. and must sign out no later than one hour after legal hunting hours. All hunters must have a blaze orange vest and hat on at all times.

Any shotgun loaded with buckshot or slug, 20 gauge or larger, is permitted for deer hunting, as is archery tackle.

For further information, contact Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, 3100 Desert Road, Suffolk, Virginia 23434, 757-986-3705, M-F 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.,

* * *

There are many state parks, refuges or natural areas across Virginia which give hunters opportunities to harvest a deer. Find one near you and fill a tag this season. Be sure not to miss the application or reservation deadline.

Good hunting.

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