Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for deer, bear, and turkey harvests for the 2012-13 fall/winter hunting seasons. The white-tailed deer harvest was down from last year while the turkey and bear harvest increased. The fall turkey harvest was the highest reported over the past five years. A better acorn crop than last year, in the range of average-to-good, coupled with management actions to meet population objectives, all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends. The harvest figures continue to indicate good hunting is available across the Commonwealth for these popular game species. Data presented in these summaries are preliminary.
During the past deer season 213,597 deer were reported killed by hunters in Virginia. This total included 96,712 antlered bucks, 18,061 button bucks, 98,781 does, and 43 unknown/sex not documented. The fall 2012 deer kill total was down 8 percent from the 233,104 deer reported killed last year, and below the 10-year annual average of 232,573.
Total deer kill levels were down from last fall across most of Virginia, including Tidewater (down 15 percent), the Southern Piedmont (down 8 percent), the Northern Piedmont (down 9 percent), and the Southern Mountains (down 3 percent). Deer kill levels were stable in the Northern Mountains. Most of the decline in 2012 deer kill was in the female deer kill which was down 13 percent from 2011. The antlered buck kill was only down 2 percent from 2011.
Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 15,791 deer. The bow kill comprised 7 percent of the total deer kill. Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 10,596 deer or 5 percent of the total. Muzzleloader hunters harvested 54,808 deer or 26 percent of the total deer kill. Nearly 160,000 deer (78 percent) were checked using the Department’s telephone and Internet checking systems. The youth deer hunting day in September resulted in a deer kill of 1,977.
The Department’s primary deer management effort over the past five years has been to increase the female deer kill over much of the state, especially on private lands. Female deer kill numbers have been at record levels for the past six consecutive deer seasons. These high and sustained levels were intended to eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and a decline in total deer kill numbers. Deer kill totals over the past three years would appear to suggest that these management efforts have been successful.
A total of 2,144 bears were harvested in Virginia during the 2012-2013 bear hunting seasons representing the combined kill from archery, muzzleloader, and firearms hunters. The 2012 harvest resulted in an approximate 7 percent increase over last year’s initial reported kill of 1,997 bears. In 2012, bears were harvested in 73 counties/cities. Female bears represented 36 percent of the total 2012 harvest, which was a smaller proportion of females in the total harvest compared to the previous 3-year average female harvest of 42 percent.
Archery hunters accounted for 513 bears during 2012, representing 24 percent of the total harvest. Archery success typically increases during poor mast years and decreases when acorns are abundant. As expected, with a better mast crop in the fall of 2012 than 2011, archery success decreased this year compared to last year and was lower than the previous 3-year average (33 percent of the total harvest.) The top three archery counties were Augusta (32), Rockingham (30), and Page (24). Crossbow hunters accounted for 44 percent of the total archery kill in 2012. The harvest from the archery season was 32 percent female, down from the previous 3-year average female harvest of 42 percent.
Muzzleloader hunting opportunities were expanded in 2011, and the second year of the statewide one-week muzzleloader harvest accounted for 415 bears (19 percent of the total harvest). This is an increase over the previous 3-year average (15 percent of the total harvest.) The 2012 muzzleloader harvest represented the highest proportion of the total harvest since a special muzzleloader season was implemented in Virginia. The top three muzzleloading counties were Rockingham (22), Botetourt (18), and Bath (18). The harvest during the muzzleloader season was composed of 39 percent females, which was down from the previous 3-year average female harvest of 46 percent.
Representing 57 percent of the total harvest, the 2012 firearms season yielded 1,216 bears, an increase from the 2011 harvest and greater than the previous 3-year average (52 percent of the total harvest). Hound hunters accounted for 59 percent of the firearms kill in 2012 (33 percent of the statewide harvest), which was an increase over the previous 3-year average of 56 percent of the firearms harvest and 29 percent of the total statewide harvest. The top three general firearms counties were Rockingham (89), Nelson (75) and Craig (63). General firearms hunters who did not use hounds harvested 40 percent females, a reduction from the previous 3-year average female harvest of 42 percent. Hound hunters harvested 34 percent females down from the previous 3-year average female harvest of 36 percent. The top 3 counties/cities for bear harvest without the use of dogs were Nelson (31), Rockingham (29), and Suffolk (25). The top 3 counties for bear harvest with the use of dogs were Rockingham (60), Craig (55), and Nelson (44).
Due to its efficacy, tradition, effectiveness, and recreational value, regulated hunting is the primary bear population management option in Virginia. The VDGIF Black Bear Management Plan outlines population objectives with guidance on appropriate strategies to manage bear populations. While regulated hunting is highly effective for controlling and managing bear populations, conservative hunting seasons are also compatible with objectives to increase bear populations. Bear population objectives have been revised for the 2012-2021 Black Bear Management Plan. Bear harvest seasons and regulations will be structured to meet these new goals and objectives. Data presented in this summary only include bears killed in the regulated bear hunting seasons.
During the 2012-13 fall turkey season, 4,432 turkeys were harvested. The 2012-13 harvest was the highest fall harvest reported over the past 5 years and was 28 percent above last year’s kill of 3,470. The harvest increased 37 percent in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (1,734 vs. 1,267). Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains increased 21 percent percent (2,673 vs. 2,203). Botetourt led all counties with a harvest of 151 birds. Most of the harvest was reported on private lands. Sixty birds (60) were harvested on the Youth Fall Turkey Hunt Day.
The 2012-13 was the second year for the January season, and virtually all of the comments received on the January season were positive. The harvest during the January season was 245 birds. The highest harvest during the January season occurred the last Saturday of the season.
In counties east of the Blue Ridge more birds were taken the holiday week that included Christmas. In contrast, more birds were taken during the first week of the season in counties west of the Blue Ridge. Statewide, about 11 percent of the harvest was taken on Thanksgiving Day.
This year also marked the second year fall turkey kills could be checked using the phone or the internet. Hunters reported more birds (65 percent) by these methods than by traditional game check stations.
The increase in the harvest was expected, given good reproduction and strong acorn crops. White oak acorn production was above average when compared to last year, but red oak crops were generally the same. Compared to recent years, the 2012 mast crop could be described as average or good, although spotty in certain areas. Birds tend to travel further with low mast crops in search of food which oftentimes takes them near or in openings or fields. As a result their home ranges increase and birds become more visible, easier to locate, and easier to hunt.
It appears reproduction was higher than average, although the increase was not uniform across all regions. Turkey reproduction is typically highly variable and may be influenced by many factors; the greatest is believed to be inclement weather during the 2 weeks following hatching. Juvenile birds typically make up a majority of the fall harvest, so a good hatch can add to the fall take. Taken together, average to good mast crops and above-average reproduction likely contributed to the harvest increase.
Information about wild turkeys in Virginia can be found online here.