Virginia's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2
November 16, 2010
For most Virginia deer hunters, November is the prime time to bag a buck, and this year should be no exception.
Although last season Virginia deer hunters nudged the harvest up slightly to a new record, the overall buck harvest was slightly down. The slight variations from year to year are normal in the eyes of biologists in charge of managing the deer herd.
Last season hunters took 108,443 antlered bucks to the skinning pole and 23,592 button bucks home for a grand total of 132,035 bucks. The previous seasons numbers were 111,863 antlered bucks and 22,291 button bucks totaling 134,154 respectively.
For the third year in a row Charles City led the way in terms of the number of antlered bucks harvested per square mile. Newcomers to the top 20 list this season are York, Northampton, Prince George, Orange and Giles.
Last season hunters in the Tidewater Region dragged 25,123 antlered bucks to the truck. Seven counties from the top 20 list are from this region. The Tidewater Region has a milder climate and a tremendous amount of agriculture and great deer habitat in the form of clearcuts, swamps and river bottoms. The combination of all of these factors makes for great hunting opportunities.
Aaron Proctor is one of the deer biologists working the region. We were able to catch up with him to find out if the weather impacted the deer herd and the prospects for quality bucks this season. Proctor pointed out that he does not feel the 8 inches of snow that his district received will impact bucks in his area. And despite the mast being spotty, there are plenty of agriculture lands that bucks were able to use to keep the weight on over the fall and winter. This past spring there was a good "green up" and deer were able to forage for food and browse very easily and gain back any weight they may have burned off during the winter.
"Some of the better bucks we see come from what we call the Peanut Belt. These counties include Sussex, South Hampton, Greensville, Surry and Isle of Wight. There are numerous hunt clubs in this area and many of them practice quality deer management and are strict about their rules. As a result they are able to observe and harvest very nice bucks," Proctor noted.
Agricultural lands are always good locations to hunt deer because there is an ever-present food source during the hunting season and the edges of fields are often good browsing areas as well. Corn, soybean and peanuts are grown in abundance in this region. This is also an area well known for dog hunting -- and for a good reason. The terrain is very thick and the briars can be incredibly dense. Only a hound can push deer out of some areas.
Finally, it should be noted that biologists have liberalized the doe harvest by opening up many more days to hunters. Be sure to check the regulations this season and take advantage of this by taking a doe. This will help keep the buck-to-doe ratio in check.
There were 28,849 antlered bucks taken in the region last season. We were able to chat with both biologists responsible for the region to get their perspectives on the prospects for another great season. Drew Larson handles the eastern portion of the region and Dan Lovelace is responsible for the western portion of the region.
Larson noted that although they had decent amounts of snow in some areas he did not feel it would adversely affect hunters' prospects for taking a quality buck this season.
"Most quality bucks in this region are probably at least three years old and have enough size on them and they have been around long enough to know how to handle the winter without difficulty," he explained.
Larson did say that it may be possible that the winter could have stressed fawn bucks and we may see some downtick in a few years as a result but again there are many variables that play into the survival of deer.
Much of Larson's district is pine and hardwoods or pine plantations. However, Brunswick and Mecklenburg tend to be good destinations. Nottoway, Dinwiddie and Charlotte counties also stand out as good areas where nice bucks are taken. These counties have some agriculture land and a varied habitat. Larson also recalled that Amelia has clubs that practice quality deer management and as a result they are seeing older age classes of bucks and nicer racks.
Lovelace pointed out that although the heavy, lingering snows did impact the deer, the lush vegetation that came up this past spring and summer allowed the deer to bounce back physically. More than likely the heavy snow kept some hunters home and the deer's movements at a minimum. Sometimes hunters that went afield anyway were able to kill nice bucks as visibility after the snows improved. Lovelace himself connected with a great buck as the snow set in last December 18th.
Lovelace also suggested that although the mast crop was poor in some areas, other areas did have some white oak acorns and that is where he suggests hunters try to hunt this year. This points out the importance of taking careful observations and even keeping a hunting journal each season.
Another tip that Lovelace shared with us was that managed timberland with thinned stands offer plenty of browse as successional cover and therefore keep deer in good shape despite the weather.
Richard Snow, an avid hunter, killed these fine bucks on the last week of the season, proving that persistence pays off. Snow hunts Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula counties. Photo courtesy of Richard Snow.
The Southern Mountain Region hunters put 19,324 antlered bucks on the skinning rack last season, which was a tad less than the previous season. Grayson and Giles counties in this region made the top 20 list. Bill Bassinger was able to spend a few minutes visiting with me to give us the scoop on his area of responsibility.
Although the mast crop was spotty in his district, this region has plenty of agriculture lands that make up for lack of acorns. As has been the theme of the information we have shared throughout the article, hunters with access to farms are going to fare best.
Bassinger did point out that even if you do not have access to farmland you can still score if you hunt near those lands. Sometimes the deer will feed on the crops and work their way back to the mountainsides to rest. Catching the deer in transition by scouting ahead
of time can pay off. Bassinger added that he had already had reports in late summer of healthy bucks with good antler growth.
If Bassinger had to pick two counties to hunt to find a quality buck he would probably go to Grayson and Wythe because they have better soils and agriculture in the valleys, coupled with public land in the form of National Forest on the ridges.
Another good public land to consider scouting and hunting for a quality buck in this region would be Big Survey WMA. Bassinger stated that the combination of thick bedding areas that are difficult to access and ample opportunity for deer to feed on nearby farmland creates a situation where bucks can grow big.
The Northern Mountain district was hit hard by snow. However, in most of the region the only season that was in for deer at the time the late muzzleloader season, which is a tough time to be afield anyway. During the season as a whole, hunters still managed to take down 15, 823 antlered bucks.
We went to Al Bourgeois to find out just what hunters can expect in his district, which includes Highland, Bath and Alleghany. Bourgeois noted that although there was a lot of snow and some thought there might be die offs, that does not seem to have been a big problem. During the spring gobbler season when hunters are in the woods and would normally report dead deer, nothing was reported. He did feel that the deer entered the winter in poor physiological condition so there may be less energy expended toward antler growth in his area.
Furthermore, even though the National Forest is not known for great deer hunting, there is a decent possibility that hunters could take a nice buck because the public land receives little pressure and the bucks are generally able to grow older. Just don't expect to see dozens of deer each day.
On private land Bourgeois pointed out that any place where forest and farm meet, the hunting is generally better. There are beef cattle and corn and hay pasture farms in the area he covers and that is the best bet for good antler growth.
Fred Frenzel covers the territory further north and east in the region and had many of the same points to make. His area includes Frederick and Clarke, which have a full rifle season. The snow did make things tough on hunters during the last two weeks of the season. It is purely a guess as to whether that kept hunters out of the woods. The fawn crop may have been impacted though between the stress of the snow on does and the poor mast crop in the mountainous areas the fall before. In these areas hunters may find fewer bucks in the next few years.
Frenzel suggested that private land supplies the best big buck hunting in Warren and Page counties near the Shenandoah National Park. There is no hunting permitted in the park and the deer can grow quite old in the sanctuary. During the rut bucks and does will often wander off the park and hunters may see some older bucks.
Hunting near farmland is once again a good tactic too. Better soils make better food and better deer habitat. In summary, hunters need to find access to private land that includes farmland or is near the park for the best shot at a quality buck.
Nick Powell of King George hunted private land on Virginia's Youth Day last year to bag this massive 10-point buck. Photo courtesy of Buddy Fines.
Hunters in this region were able to tag 19,324 antlered bucks last season. Four of the top 20 counties are in this region.
Brian Moyer is one of several biologists working the expanse of the Northern Piedmont and he keeps track of both the deer in his area and the hunt clubs that participate in DMAP. His observations give us insight as to what we can expect this fall as the bucks start chasing does.
"I believe that last fall's acorn crop impacted the harvest in my counties last year. We saw an increase in deer harvest in most of my counties (Central Piedmont). Some of that was because of increased doe days, but we also saw an increase in buck harvest in some counties. I believe that was because of the poor acorn crop. No food in the woods means deer need to move around more, thus making them more vulnerable."
Moyer opined that the poor mast crop will have an impact on antlers this fall in areas that are predominately forested. Deer in these areas depend more heavily on acorns than do deer in areas with more agriculture. Our source also noted that during managed hunts at Pocahantas State Park they observed lower-than-average deer weights. This point was made to show that any buck that barely gets by in the winter will have a lot of catching up to do before he can put much effort into building huge antlers.
Moyer noted that Hanover County is a go-to place if you have access to private land. Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline has in the recent past produced very nice bucks. Hanover has agriculture and timber management. Fort A.P. Hill does not have much agriculture on post but the lands surrounding the post do have plenty of agriculture. Powhatan WMA is another good public land that bears looking into. Although the WMA can get pressured on opening days and weekends, the weekdays are ripe for good hunting opportunities.
Clear cuts or other habitat management that promotes new growth will be a good place to look for deer. Moyer pointed out that the wet, late summer and early fall allowed some of these areas to spurt new growth and gave deer some food sources even when the mast failed. According to Moyer, the deer can put on just as much weight with the right type and amount of greenery as they can with acorns.
As he pointed out, "Acorns are around for only a few weeks while browse can last most of the winter in a clear cut."
He supported his statement with the observation that one of the clubs he works with in Powhatan saw their heaviest weights in the history of the club this past season, even with a total mast failure on their land. The adjacent clear cuts were three to five years old and evidently provided plenty of forage. Moyer quickly added that he was not advocating cutting down all mast trees but simply pointing out that timber management and abandoned fields can be a good thing. Diversity certainly pays off when certain food sources don't pan out.
Finally, Moyer stated that although he feels there may be fewer quality bucks this season they will certainly be available. Follow his tips to find your buck this season.