General firearms season for deer hunting opens this Saturday (Nov. 13). The season for archers and muzzleloader hunters is already underway.
Hunting is a tradition in Rappahannock and other rural counties throughout the state — such a tradition that in years past schoolboys could “play hooky” and have their absence excused on the first day of deer hunting season when that fell on a weekday.
Last year, according to statistics from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 2,339 deer were killed by hunters in Rappahannock County. Of these, 877 were antlered males, 225 males and 1,237 females. Ten years ago, in 1999, the total number of deer killed in the county was recorded at 1,756.
Rappahannock’s portion of the total statewide harvest has remained relatively constant, at slightly less than 1 percent, during this same 10-year period. In 1999, the number of deer hunted throughout the state totaled 190,043. Last year, the number was 256,512.
“The tough economic situation in recent years has many people thinking about how to stretch their dollars, put food on the table, let go of stress, and still somehow give to others,” in the words of Julia Dixon, media specialist at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).
“Reports on obesity, concerns about food quality and the footprint we are leaving on the planet,” she continued, “have people wondering what to do. An activity that addresses all that and more is hunting.”
Still, there are many Rappahannock residents who are not just nonhunters but fiercely anti-hunting. They post their land, as is their right, and relgiously report violators to the game warden.
“The trouble with hunting,” according to Washington writer and outdoorsman Duncan Spencer, “is it has nothing to do with logic. It can only be explained in emotion and tradition.”
But there does remain the inexorable logic of economics: Each year hunters in Virginia spend more than $480 million in hunting trip-related and equipment expenditures, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Hunters and fishers together generate $128 million in Virginia state and local tax revenue annually, according to DGIF’s Dixon.
In addition, Dixon points out, hunting licenses fund wildlife conservation efforts, including the acquisition of thousands of acres for habitat. A one-year hunting license in Virginia costs $18.
Deer populations have skyrocketed, largely due to human impact on the ecosystem (e.g., the decline of deer’s natural predators). Hunting provides a way for people to help right this imbalance, as Dixon points out. At this time of year, the total deer population in the state numbers around an estimated 1 million, which is reduced roughly 25 percent annually by hunting.
Moreover, hunters provide needed protein to Virginia’s poor families by donating a deer or a portion of it to Hunters for the Hungry (www.h4hungry.org). Last year, more than 405,000 pounds of venison, equal to 1.6 million servings, were distributed in Virginia through this program, according to DGIF.
As long-time Rappahannock residents can attest, hunting is a tradition passed from one generation to the next, which, as Dixon says, “creates special bonds between family members and friends.” And this tradition leads to a sense of stewardship, she notes:
“People who hunt have a special connection with the outdoors and an awareness of the relationships between wildlife, habitat and humans.”