Bear, deer, turkey harvest data announced

RICHMOND – Preliminary figures compiled by wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) show deer and turkey harvests for the 2011-2012 fall/winter hunting seasons were up, significantly for turkey, while the bear harvest decreased.

Poor and spotty mast crops across the state this past fall coupled with management actions to meet population objectives all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends. The harvest figures continue to indicate that good hunting is available across the Commonwealth for these popular game species. Data presented in these summaries are preliminary.

White-tailed deer

During the past deer season 231,454 deer were reported killed by hunters in Virginia. This total included 98,770 antlered bucks, 20,738 button bucks, and 111,830 does (48.3 percent). The fall 2011 deer kill total was 4 percent higher than the 222,074 deer reported killed last year, and is in line with the last 10-year average of 230,850.

Deer kill levels were down slightly (2 percent) in Tidewater but were up in all other regions, including the Southern Piedmont (up 6 percent), Northern Piedmont (5 percent), Southern Mountains (13 percent) and Northern Mountains (3 percent).

Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 17,110 deer. The bow kill comprised 7 percent of the total deer kill. Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 10,877 deer or 5 percent of the total deer kill. Muzzleloader hunters killed 55,306 deer or 24 percent of the total. More than 166,000 deer (72 percent) were checked using VDGIF’s telephone and Internet checking systems.

The department’s deer management efforts over the past five years to increase the female deer kill over much of the state, especially on private lands, has been very successful. Female deer kill numbers have been at record levels for the past five consecutive deer seasons. These high and sustained female deer kill levels were intended to eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide herd and a decline in total deer kill numbers.

It should be noted however, that the department is currently actively managing to increase deer populations in the Cumberland Plateau counties of Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise, in the Alleghany Highland counties of Alleghany, Bath, and Highland and on National Forest lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Black bear

During the 2011-2012 bear hunting seasons 1,997 bears were harvested during the archery, muzzleloader, and firearms seasons. The 2011 harvest resulted in an approximately 10 percent decrease over last year’s reported kill of 2,221 bears. In 2011, bears were harvested in 73 counties including the first legal bear harvest in Henrico County in many decades. Female bears represented 42 percent of the 2011 harvest, which was greater than the 2010 harvest (39 percent) but equal to the 2009 harvest (42 percent).

Archery hunters accounted for 693 bears during 2011, 35 percent of the total harvest. This was the third year of the six-week statewide season for bowhunters, and although the archery kill was higher than 2010 numbers (409 bears) it was less than 2009 (1,017 bears). As expected with the poor mast crop, archery success increased this year over 2010 and was comparable to the archery harvest reported in years with limited or spotty fall mast. Archery success typically increases during poor mast years and decreases when acorns are abundant. The top three archery counties were Rockingham (52), Page (50) and Warren (31). Crossbow hunters accounted for 42 percent of the total archery kill.

Muzzleloader hunting opportunities were expanded in 2011 and were available for the first time in southwest Virginia. The statewide one-week muzzleloader harvest accounted for 265 bears (13 percent of the total harvest). The new season in Southwest Virginia resulted in the harvest of 55 bears. The total muzzleloader harvest was less than both the 2010 (342 bears) and 2009 (356 bears) seasons. The top three muzzleloading counties were Rockingham (22), Page (20) and Augusta (14).

Representing 52 percent of the total kill, the 2011 firearms season yielded 1,039 bears, a decrease from the 2010 harvest (1,428 bears, 66 percent of harvest) and an increase from the 2009 firearms harvest of 931. Hound hunters accounted for 64 percent of the firearms kill in 2011. The top three general firearms counties were Augusta (109), Rockingham (96) and Rockbridge (67).

The 2011-2012 Virginia bear harvest is similar to other mid-Appalachian states, including West Virginia, which saw a slight decrease in the number of bears harvested over last season. This slight decrease was within the expected harvest levels for a year with a poor and spotty fall mast crop.

Fall wild turkey

During the 2011-2012 fall turkey season, 3,470 turkeys were harvested. This harvest was 29 percent above last year’s reported kill (2,687). The harvest increased 15 percent in counties west of the Blue Ridge (1,267 vs. 1,102), and 39 percent (2,203 vs. 1,585) in counties east of the Blue Ridge. Botetourt led all counties with a harvest of 119 birds. Most of the harvest was reported on private lands. Thirty-seven birds were harvested on the Youth Fall Turkey Hunt Day.

The 2011-2012 season was the first year a separate January season was offered. Virtually all of the comments received on the January season were positive. The harvest in the 13-day January season was 273 birds.

The increase in the harvest was expected given good reproduction and spotty mast crops. Turkey harvest rates typically increase when acorns are scattered. 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, easy to locate and easier to hunt.


  1. Virginia’s Black Bear Management Plan.
  2. Information about black bears in Virginia
  3. Virginia’s White-tailed Deer Management Plan.
  4. Information about white-tailed deer in Virginia.
  5. Information about wild turkey in Virginia.

– Report provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

About Staff/Contributed 5503 Articles
The Rappahannock News welcomes contributions from any and all members of the community. Email news and photos to or call us at 540-675-3338.