Virginia Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
This past season Virginia hunters tagged a total of 242,734 deer. That represents an increase of 27,493 deer taken over the previous season.
The 2013 take included 106,230 antlered bucks (compared to 96,853 in 2012). Hunters also killed 20,082 button bucks (18,313 in 2012), and 116,304 does (100,031 in 2012).
The doe harvest represents 47.9 percent of all the deer killed last season by hunters. The total harvest increased approximately 12 percent.
Not only did hunters take more bucks and does last season than they did the season before, the increased success rate was spread out across the state. VDGIF deer biologists report that all physiographic regions experienced increases in harvest. Across 90 of 97 management units (which are typically counties) the harvest increased.
Archery hunters, including those who use crossbows, accounted for 27,648 deer. Smokepole users tallied up 53,649 deer (22 percent of the harvest).
According to VDGIF, 186,500 deer were checked by hunters by phone or the Internet. Additionally, this year was the first year that apprentice hunters were permitted to take part in the special youth deer hunting day in September. The result increased the harvest on that day from 2012's take of 1,977 deer to 2,682 deer.
UPDATES FOR THIS SEASON
This season will be the first time that Virginia deer hunters will be permitted to hunt whitetail deer on Sunday. Stipulations to that law include the fact that, "only a landowner and his immediate family or a person with written permission from the landowner may hunt or kill any wild bird or wild animal, including nuisance species, on the landowner's property. However, the aforementioned hunting activities cannot occur within 200 yards of a house of worship and prohibits the hunting of deer or bear with a gun, firearm, or other weapon with the aid or assistance of dogs on Sunday."
Sunday hunting will occur only on private land; hunters may not hunt on public land on Sunday. As of press time VDGIF has not proposed shortening the hunting season to make up for the additional weekend hunting pressure.
Matt Knox, VDGIF Deer Project Coordinator, stated, "Either-sex deer hunting days have changed slightly in some counties, picking up some Sundays, but it is not a major change.
The 'normal' deer season(s) will still end on the first Saturday in January like they always have. We kept this because several counties have different either-sex days between private and public lands within the county and we want to try and keep the either-sex days 'matched' up on public and private lands within individual counties at the end of the season."
Knox says he feels it will take biologists two to five years to gauge how the Sunday hunting will impact the herd. Once that impact is known, the VDGIF will adjust regulations as needed.
One final deer management note is that Hemorrhagic Disease (HD) outbreaks were very few and far between last season. Typically this disease is cyclical, with outbreaks every four to six years. The last big outbreak was during the 2012/2013 season.
The Tidewater region experienced a year-over-year uptick in harvest from 52,883 whitetail deer in 2012 to 59,221 deer tagged last season. This is an 11 percent increase. Given the fact that the deer have begun to bounce back from the horrible HD outbreak the previous season, and the fact that the acorn crop was a near failure, the deer were moving around quite a bit and more readily seen by hunters. That translated into more opportunities for hunters to kill deer.
Aaron Proctor is one of the wildlife biologists managing the region's deer. He explained to me that the whole region is quite good for deer hunting due to the variety of habitat, decent soils and the density of deer already established.
Because of the high density of the deer population, areas like King George (10.7) were able to bounce back and actually be in the top 20 counties for deer harvested per square mile. Hunters in King George killed 10.7 deer per square mile last season; other counties in the top 20 included Lancaster (13), Westmoreland (10.8), New Kent (10.8), Richmond (10.8), Charles City (10.6), Surry (10.3) and Southampton (9.8).
I also spoke with Todd Engelmeyer, another of the region's biologists, about public land opportunities. He suggested that readers take a hard look at the quota hunts on WMAs and look for new youth- and apprentice-hunting opportunities this season. The region is not flush with public lands, but the ones it has are usually good or great for hunting opportunities. Engelmeyer also noted that he has seen ads for hunting clubs looking for new members, but he also notes that land lease rates are going up in some areas too.
In summary, the region is good for deer hunting pretty much in every county. The bigger hurdle is getting land to hunt on. Hunt early and often starting with the archery season and you will certainly have opportunities to fill your tags.
SOUTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
In 2013, the Southern Piedmont Region produced 61,876 deer, a 10 percent increase over 2012's take of 55,429 deer. Bedford (13.3 deer per square mile), Cumberland (9.9), and Roanoke (9.8) were the best counties in the region.
I spoke with wildlife biologist Dan Lovelace of VDGIF to get the details on the region. Lovelace covers the western portion of the region and pointed out that Bedford and Pittsylvania are great places to deer hunt if you can get access to private land. One of the best ways to bag some venison, according to Lovelace, is to look into the Urban Archery program and take advantage of the high deer densities in suburban and urban areas. There are a number of landowners who want to have deer removed. The key is to look at the website for VDGIF and see which areas participate in the program and who administers the program for that town or city.
There are also some deer/landowner issues arising within small communities around Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin and Bedford counties. Knock on doors in those areas and do some legwork to find a block of properties where landowners would like to see archers take deer out. Crossbows are easy to use in such situations if you are not able to draw and hold a bow back.
Another great public land to consider is the Smith Mountain Lake State Park. They have a reservation system in place and usually have a total of 30 hunters per day. Lovelace says that this hunt is a great opportunity because of the high deer densities on the park. The odds are that hunters will see deer. Call 540-297-6066 for details. The hunts typically occur in November, and bow, crossbow and muzzleloaders are permitted.
SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
Hunters in this rugged and beautiful region tagged 34,093 deer in 2012, but last season that number grew to 39,642, a 14 percent increase.
Much or all of this increase was not due to changes in deer herd numbers, but rather a very sparse acorn crop. In years when the acorns are scarce, deer travel more and spend more of their time out of the cover of the woods and in open fields. Both behavioral changes give an advantage to hunters.
The top county in the region, according to harvest per square mile data, was Craig County, with 14.2 deer harvested per square mile. A discussion with regional wildlife manager, Allen Boynton, revealed that Craig is indeed a good county to hunt if you can find land to hunt.
"There is a lot private land that interfaces with national forest. On years when we have a good acorn crop the deer move back and forth, while on poor acorn mast years the deer focus more on private lands, fields and so on where they are more visible," Boynton said.
It is noteworthy that overall the national forest herd is in decline and much of that decline is because there is little diversity on the national forest lands. The lack of diversity follows from low rates of timber harvest. Diversity is key to a healthy ecosystem and with 1.7 million acres of forest one would think that some careful harvesting would not be unreasonable. National forest managers, however, have had a difficult time designing timber operations of any kind that withstand court challenges.
Other counties that are reportedly good bets in the region include Scott and Grayson counties. These counties have a history of a healthy herd and regulations to support this. It can take years of hunting to reduce a herd significantly. Hunters who can find land to hunt in these counties should see plenty of deer. Don't overlook national forest, but do focus on these public lands that border private land. Deer don't read signs marking property lines and will pass back and forth. Just don't trespass on private lands while hunting!
NORTHERN MOUNTAIN REGION
This region has perhaps the most extreme variation in deer habitats and the harvest figures bear that out.
During the 2012-2013 season, hunters took 28,784 deer. Last season they killed 32,002 deer. Clarke (13.2 deer taken per square mile), Frederick (11.2) and Shenandoah (10.3) were the best counties to find high deer densities. The soils are quite good there, and the habitat is a great mix of pasture, river bottom, mountains (with stout stands of oaks) and soft-mast orchards. Knocking on doors and creating relationships with landowners is obviously key to getting into some great deer hunting.
Al Bourgeois is one of the district wildlife biologists who handles the far western portion of the region. He says that Augusta and Rockbridge have more farmland and a better mix of woods and open land and are therefore more productive than other areas. As with all regions, the private lands are better options but tougher to get access too. Take the time to help landowners, and trade work for access when possible.
WMAs such as the Little North Mountain and Goshen, which are located near private farmlands, may offer the best chance at taking a deer as they travel back and forth between habitats. Pre-season scouting and a willingness to hike will pay off for those that want to bag a deer. Know the boundaries and hunt ethically and safely.
NORTHERN PIEDMONT REGION
Last season hunters in this region checked in 49,993 deer, which increased from 44,052 the previous season. This 12 percent increase is probably due to the acorn-crop failure and the fact that deer sought food in visible places such as apple orchards and agricultural fields.
Loudoun (16.1 deer taken per square mile), Clarke (13.2), Culpeper and Prince William (10.4), Madison (10) and Rappahannock at (9.8) are all much like the northern tier counties of the adjoining region; they have great soils, an incredible mix of hardwood stands and open fields coupled with agricultural lands. The seasons are very liberal in this region, but land access can be tough.
Kevin Rose, a wildlife biologist with VDGIF, recommends hunters check out Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. The preserve is located in Loudoun County and the deer herd is very dense. Other public land opportunities that are quite good include Quantico and Fort Belvoir military bases. Each installation has their own rules regarding hunting, but deer herds are in great shape and for those with no private land they can be a good place to stock the freezer.
Last, Rose recommends that hunters check out the Mason Neck NWR and state park managed hunt.
"This hunt offers a great opportunity for the hunter willing to get deeper into the woods and away from the roads. It is also has the largest number of possible hunters, so the chance of being selected is high," Rose said.
With regard to the great hunting in the region he added, "When most seasons ended January 4th, hunters in Loudoun, and Prince William were still able to use firearms to hunt antlerless deer. When hunters start to miss the woods in February, I would encourage them to use any connections they have to seek hunting opportunities on private lands in Northern Virginia."
This season should be quite good for Virginia deer hunters. The mast crop should be noticeably better than the failure last year and the counties recovering from HD two years ago will only continue to build their herds.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'œgood luck tree.'
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell\'s giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands\' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it\'s just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost\'s wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail\'s Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'œchip-shot.' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it\'s a good thing he didn\'t.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson\'s persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp\'s Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'œI've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to.'
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran\'s Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who\'d spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won\'t forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'œBig Daddy' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he\'d squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he\'d hit, but couldn\'t find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand.'