Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for deer, bear, and turkey harvests for the 2013-14 fall/winter hunting seasons. The deer, bear and turkey harvests all reflected an increase from last year.
A poor acorn crop across the state 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.
During the past deer season 242,734 deer were reported killed by deer hunters in Virginia. This total included 106,230 antlered bucks, 20,082 button bucks, 116,304 does (48 percent), and 118 “unknown” deer. The fall 2013 deer kill total was up 13 percent from the 215,241 deer reported killed last fall. It is also slightly above the last ten-year average of 232,600 (up 4 percent).
Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 15,649 deer. The bow kill comprised 6 percent of the total deer kill. Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 11,999, or 5 percent of the total deer kill. Muzzleloader hunters killed 53,649 deer, or 22 percent of the total deer kill. Nearly 186,500 deer (77 percent) were checked using the VDGIF’s telephone and internet checking systems. The youth apprentice deer hunting day in September resulted in a deer kill of 2,682, a 36 percent increase over last year’s kill of 1977 during the youth deer hunting day. This year was the first year where apprentice hunters could also participate on the youth day.
Total deer kill levels were up across all physiographic regions including Tidewater, Southern Piedmont, Northern Piedmont, Southern Mountains, and Northern Mountains. Ninety of 97 deer management units (93 percent) had an increased deer kill total in 2013 over fall 2012. The 13 percent increase in the deer kill could possibly be related to a broad statewide hard mast failure. Data from previous years in Virginia indicate that when oak acorns are lacking, the deer kill tends to increase.
VDGIF’s primary deer management effort over the past five to 10 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 eight consecutive deer seasons. These high and sustained female deer kill levels are intended to eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and a decline in total deer kill numbers.
A total of 2,312 bears were harvested in Virginia during the 2013-14 bear hunting seasons. Representing the combined kill from youth/apprentice, archery, muzzleloader, and firearms hunters, the 2013-14 harvest was an 8 percent increase over last year’s initial reported kill of 2,144 bears and approached the highest recorded bear harvest of 2,325 bears during the 2009-10 seasons.
The archery season resulted in a harvest of 710 bears (31 percent of total harvest), muzzleloader season resulted in 412 bears (18 percent) harvested, and the firearms season resulted in 1080 bears (47 percent) harvested. Hunters with dogs harvested most of the bears during firearms seasons (58 percent of the total firearms harvest).
This was the first year youth and apprentice hunters enjoyed a special day of bear hunting on the last Saturday in September. Youth and apprentice hunters harvested 110 bears, 57 of which were harvested using hounds. Similar to previous years, the overall percent females in the harvest was 43 percent; as usual, hound hunters harvested the smallest proportion of females. Although bears were harvested in 75 counties/cities throughout the Commonwealth, most of the harvest occurred west of the Blue Ridge (73 percent).
Mast conditions greatly influence the distribution of harvest among hunting seasons. Years with poor mast production typically result in archery bear harvests that make up a greater proportion of the total harvest compared to years with good mast production. With the fall of 2013 as one of the worst years on record for mast production in Virginia, an archery kill that was 31 percent of the total harvest was virtually identical to the proportion of bears killed during archery seasons in the seven other worst mast years since 1989 (which averaged 32 percent of the total harvests). During years with better mast conditions, the archery harvest typically averages 19 percent of the total harvest.
During the 2013-14 fall turkey season, 5,351 turkeys were harvested. The 2013-14 season total was the highest fall harvest reported over the past 9 years. This harvest was 21 percent above last year’s reported kill (4,432). The harvest increased 8 percent in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (WBR) (1,734 vs 1,869). Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains (EBR) increased 29 percent percent (2,698 vs. 3,482). EBR hunters harvested 22 birds per 100 square miles of forest range. The rate was nearly identical in counties WBR where 21 birds were killed per 100 square miles of forest range. Bedford led all counties with a harvest of 167 birds. Most (93 percent) of the harvest was reported on private lands. Approximately 5 percent of the harvest was on federal lands. The harvest on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests increased 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively. On the youth apprentice fall turkey hunt day, 50 birds were harvested which is lower than last year (60).
The 2013-14 fall season was the third year where a 2-week turkey hunting was provided in January. The harvest during the January season was 265 birds, a slight increase over the 2012-13 harvest of 245 birds. Many hunters submitted complimentary remarks about the opportunity to hunt in January.
Eleven percent of the state harvest was taken on Thanksgiving Day. In counties EBR 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 WBR.
More hunters chose to check their bird on the phone (65 percent) than at Game Check Stations (19 percent) or on the VDGIF website (15 percent).
The increase in the harvest was expected because populations have risen in recent years and because there were poor mast crops across most of the state. The rise in the turkey population has been attributed to above-average reproduction in 2011 and 2013. Juvenile birds typically make up a majority of the fall harvest, so the strong 2013 hatch contributed to the higher fall harvest.
Mast crops (primarily acorns) were sparse during the fall season. Birds tend to travel farther with poor mast crops in search of food which oftentimes takes them near or in openings or fields. As a result, their home ranges increase; therefore, birds become more visible and easier to locate. Under these circumstances, hunting harvest rates increase.
Taken together, record- level populations and below-average mast crops contributed to the harvest increase.
Top Turkey Harvest Counties:
Virginia’s Black Bear Management Plan can be viewed at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/blackbearmanagementplan.pdf.
Information about black bears in Virginia can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/.
Virginia’s White-tailed Deer Management Plan can be viewed at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/management-plan/
Information about white-tailed deer in Virginia can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/.
Information about wild turkeys in Virginia can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/.