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.