2017-18 hunting season bags a few more bears
A total of 24 bears and 1535 deer were harvested in Rappahannock County during the recently concluded 2017-18 hunting season, which compares to 21 bears and 1584 deer bagged by hunters during the previous season.
The number of deer harvested in Rappahannock County this season is the lowest number in twenty years — since the season ending in 1998, when 1476 deer were successfully hunted. The fewest deer harvested before that in Rappahannock were 1347 in 1986 (annual records have been kept since 1947).
By comparison, 1823 deer were harvested during the 2015-16 hunting season, 1636 in 2014-15, and 2024 in 2013-14 — almost 500 more deer than this season.
Broken down, there were 643 antlered males taken this season in Rappahannock, 87 male fawns, and 805 females (52.4 percent females over males).
Statewide, the deer harvest was also down. Hunters took 189,730 deer, including 95,474 antlered bucks, 12,822 button bucks, and 81,434 does (43 percent).
The youth and apprentice deer-hunting weekend resulted in a harvest of 2,954 deer across Virginia, while the archery season harvest was 27,630 deer. Hunters took 48,811 deer during the muzzleloader season. Firearms deer season (rifles and shotguns) resulted in a deer harvest of 113,169 deer — 60 percent of the total.
Deer hunting with dogs accounted for approximately 54 percent of the total firearms harvest in the 59 eastern counties where deer-dog hunting is legal. In areas where hunting deer with dogs is legal, the percentage of deer harvested using dogs ranged from just a few percent in northern Virginia to nearly 90 percent on the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and Virginia’s southeastern counties
According to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Deer Project Coordinator Matt Knox, the stable or declining deer harvest trends experienced in most Virginia counties over the past decade were expected.
Knox noted that the primary deer management effort over the past decade had been to increase the female deer harvest over much of the state, especially on private lands in eastern Virginia, to meet the deer population objectives of stabilizing or reducing deer populations as set forth in the department’s deer management plan.
As for the bruins, statewide during the 2017-18 season, 2,861 bears were harvested by 32,687 licensed bear hunters. The regular firearms season accounted for most of the harvest, with 1,474 bears harvested, where hound hunters made up the majority (72 percent) of the firearms harvest.
The archery, muzzleloader, and 3-day early firearms seasons resulted in the harvest of 497, 395 and 395 bears respectively. Another 100 bears were taken during the youth and apprentice bear hunting weekend on October 14-15 (91 percent by hound hunters).
With non residents throughout the United States purchasing 1,155 licenses to hunt bears in Virginia, successful out-of-state bear hunters came from 33 different states.
The 2017-18 bear harvest was 17 percent higher than the highest previous year observed in Virginia during the 2016-17 hunting seasons.
According to Dr. Gray Anderson, chief of wildlife for the department, the increased bear success was anticipated given additional bear hunting opportunities designed to help address human-bear conflicts and bring about measured population reductions in areas primarily west of the Blue Ridge.
The new 3-day early firearms bear season, during the week prior to the archery season, added to bear hunting mortality and contributed to an increase in the overall statewide bear harvest, the department stated. The 3-day season also encouraged additional opportunities for bear hunting recreation and interest by potentially new and non-traditional bear hunters.
While many hound hunters took advantage of the early season, the success of non-hound hunters confirmed the expanded interest by all sportsmen and sportswomen in this unique bear hunting opportunity, the department pointed out.
Hound hunters typically harvest the majority of bears during firearms seasons, but non-hound hunters made a welcome contribution to the harvest by actually taking the majority of bears (61 percent) during this early season. Also possibly due to the availability of the early season was the rise in bear hunting license sales, with nearly 900 more bear licenses sold in 2017 than 2016.
“One goal was to implement an inclusive season that would specifically generate interest in bear hunting by making it open to all types of hunting,” said the department’s Bear Project leader Jaime Sajecki. “Hunters were given the chance to focus on the unique values and special skills needed to pursue one of Virginia’s most prized game animals. The popularity of the season among hound and still hunters alike was proof that we accomplished this goal.”