From contributed reports
Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), after compiling the preliminary figures for the 2014-15 fall/winter hunting season, reported significant declines in deer and turkey harvests this year, but 4 percent rise in bears taken.
VDGIF’s announcement said a bumper crop of acorns across the state coupled with management actions to meet population objectives and some higher than normal disease mortality all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends.
During the past deer season, VDGIF said, 190,745 deer were reported killed by hunters in Virginia. This total included 88,148 antlered bucks, 14,592 button bucks, 87,937 does (46 percent) and 68 unclassified deer. The fall 2014 deer kill total was down 22 percent from the 244,440 deer reported killed last year. It is also 18 percent below the last 10-year average of 233,350.
Total deer kill levels were down across all of Virginia’s physiographic regions, including Tidewater, Southern Piedmont, Northern Piedmont, Southern Mountains, and Northern Mountains. Deer kill declines were greater east of the Blue Ridge (down 24 percent) than west of the mountains (down 16 percent).
Said the VDGIF announcement: “Declining deer kills in Virginia are not unexpected. The department’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, to meet the deer population objectives of stabilizing or reducing deer populations found in Virginia’s deer management plan.
“However, the magnitude of the 2014 deer kill decline was greater than anticipated. There are several possible explanations. First and foremost are the liberal either-sex deer hunting regulations (doe days) the department has had in place since 2008. These liberal regulations were expected to eventually result in a decline in the deer herd and the annual deer kill totals, even without the added impact from hemorrhagic disease (HD), which showed up in at least 28 counties in eastern Virginia this past fall prior to the opening of deer season. . . . In addition, acorns were plentiful during hunting season, reducing the need for deer to move long distances in search of food, making them less vulnerable to hunters. Without these other factors, liberal deer seasons would likely reduce the deer kill more gradually, over a number of years.”
The data in VDGIF’s summary did not include deer taken during the late urban archery or special late antlerless-only deer seasons, any deer killed on out-of-season kill permits or those deer hit and killed by vehicles.
A total of 2,405 bears were harvested in Virginia during the 2014-15 bear hunting seasons. Representing the combined kill from youth/apprentice, archery, muzzleloader and firearms hunters, the 2014-15 harvest was a 4-percent increase over last year’s initial reported kill of 2,312 bears and is highest recorded bear harvest to date.
The first year of Sunday hunting resulted in the harvest of 119 bears, or about 5 percent of the total harvest, the majority of which were taken in the archery season (59), followed by muzzleloader (28) and firearms seasons (32). While Sunday impacts to the harvest were relatively small this year, one year of harvest is not representative of a trend or reflective of future impacts. The impacts of Sunday hunting on the bear harvest will be monitored closely in order to determine impacts to bear populations resulting from these added hunting opportunities.
Last fall, 2,988 turkeys were harvested during the 2014-15 season. The 2014-15 season total was 44 percent below last year’s reported kill (5,351). The harvest decreased 36 percent in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 49 percent east of the mountains. The 2014-15 season was the first year hunters could hunt turkeys (and other game) on Sundays. Interest in Sunday hunting appeared light as only 5 percent of the harvest was reported on Sundays during the firearms seasons. (Some 27 percent of the harvest was reported on Saturdays in the firearms seasons.)
Gary Norman, leader of VDGIF’s Wild Turkey Project, said a decline in the turkey harvest was expected because mast crops were generally above average across the state. Good mast crops depress harvest rates as turkeys move less to find food and typically spend most of their time in forested areas, using smaller home ranges and remaining out of view. In years with poor mast conditions, like last year, birds travel longer distances and routinely spend time in fields and clearings, in view of the public which typically results in higher hunter success rates.
“Despite the low fall harvest, we believe turkey populations are in good condition as cooperators in our August Brood Survey reported seeing near record numbers of broods and total numbers of turkeys,” Norman said. “The widespread availability of acorns, the turkey’s favorite food, simply made for tough hunting conditions as birds were hard to locate.”