Virginia Deer, Turkey and Bear Harvest Data Available

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Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for deer, turkey, and bear harvests for the 2009-10 fall/winter hunting seasons. The white-tailed deer and wild turkey harvests were largely consistent with last year's harvest. As anticipated, the black bear harvest was up, but only slightly. These harvest figures indicate that good hunting is available across the Commonwealth.

BLACK BEAR

During the 2009-10 bear season a total of 2,304 black bears were harvested using archery, muzzleloader, and firearms. This represented an increase of 4.5% over last year's harvest of 2,204 bears.

The Virginia Black Bear Management Plan, a plan representing the bear-related interests and public values of all Virginians, includes objectives for desirable population levels of black bears across Virginia. In order to meet the population objectives and address a bear population that has been steadily increasing at an average rate of approximately 9% per year, hunting opportunities for firearms, muzzleloaders, and archery were all liberalized for the 2009-10 season. Consequently, the increase in harvest was not a surprise.

In 2009-10, bears were harvested in 74 counties, up from 64 counties last season. The top five counties for bears were Rockingham (176), Page (130), Augusta (129), Botetourt (120), and Rockbridge (100). Female bears composed 42% of the total harvest, a number consistent with the 2008-09 harvest in which 40% were females.

Hunters using archery tackle killed 1,017 bears or 44% of the total harvest. In 2008-09, bowhunters harvested 517 bears. An increase in the archery harvest was expected as the statewide bear archery season was expanded by two weeks and mast conditions during the fall of 2009 were generally poor. Archery hunting success for bears fluctuates with mast conditions, increasing during poor mast years and decreasing when acorns are abundant.

Muzzleloader hunting opportunities for bears were expanded during 2009-10 by increasing the season length and opening new areas to muzzleloaders. These season expansions lead to an increase in the muzzleloader bear harvest, with 356 bears killed compared to 95 taken in 2008-09. The muzzleloader harvest was 15% of the total bear harvest for the year.

The total 2009-10 firearms bear season harvest yielded 931 bears, or 40% of the total harvest. This was a decrease from the 2008-09 firearms harvest of 1,592 bears. Both firearms bear hunters who used hounds and those who did not experienced similar declines. Hound hunters accounted for 48% of the firearms bear kill in 2009-10, which was comparable to their 47% of the firearms bear kill for 2008-09.

Hunting conditions and mast availability most certainly contributed to the decline in bears harvested with firearms. When acorn availability is poor (as it was in 2009), bears enter winter dens earlier and become less vulnerable to firearm hunters. Compounding the effects of the poor mast crop, significant snowstorms hit Virginia in mid-December which likely limited hunter activity during the last 2 ½ weeks of the general firearms season, including the holidays which are popular days for hunters to go afield.

Additional analyses of the 2009-10 bear harvest data will help identify the relative influences of season changes, mast conditions, and inclement weather. Historically, bear kills in all seasons have often been characterized by wide annual fluctuations in harvest despite trends in increasing population and harvest.

WHITE-TAILED DEER

During the 2009-10 white-tailed deer season, a total of 256,512 deer were harvested in Virginia. This total included 108,443 antlered bucks, 23,592 button bucks, and 124,477 does. Female deer represented 49% of the total deer harvest. The 2009-10 harvest represented an increase of less than 1% over the 256,382 deer reported killed last year.

Deer kill levels were up across southern Virginia, increasing 7% in the Southern Piedmont and 2% in the Southern Mountains. Deer kill levels were down across northern Virginia, decreasing 7% in the Northern Mountains and 3% in the Northern Piedmont. The deer kill was stable in Tidewater.

Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 16,947 deer during the 2009-10 season. The bow kill comprised 7% of the total deer kill. This was down 6% from 2008-09.

Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 9,456 deer or 4% of the total deer kill. The 2009-10 crossbow deer kill was down 2% from 2008-09.

Muzzleloader hunters killed 55,900 deer or 22% of the total deer harvest in 2009-10. The muzzleloader deer kill was also down 2% from 2008-09.

More than 168,300 deer (66%) were checked using the Department's telephone and Internet checking systems. This was up from 44% in 2004-05, 51% in 2005-06, 55% in 2006-07, 59% in 2007-08, and 63% in 2008-09.

Virginia's first Youth Deer Hunting Day which took place the last Saturday in September resulted in a harvest of 1,838 deer. Based upon the harvest, young hunters across the Commonwealth appeared to have braved the heavy downpours to enjoy this new hunting opportunity.

White-tailed deer management in Virginia is guided by the Virginia Deer Management Plan and is based on the fact that deer herd density and deer herd health are best controlled by regulating the female deer (doe) harvest levels. Numerous season and regulation changes made over the past several years have been designed to increase the number of female deer taken in order to meet the objectives of the management plan. These changes have been very successful. Female deer kill numbers have been at record levels for eight out of the past 10 years. Nearly all the increase in deer harvest totals over the past decade has been due to an increased kill of antlerless and/or female deer. The female deer harvest of 124,477 in 2009-10 is the highest doe kill recorded in Virginia history.

FALL WILD TURKEY

Fall turkey hunters harvested 3,538 birds in the 2009-10 season. This harvest was 1% above last year's reported kill of 3,505.

The relatively low but stable harvest was a result of several factors including spotty mast conditions and low reproduction. Good recruitment is obviously needed to bolster turkey populations and reproduction has been poor in recent years. During June, July, and August, Department staff report observations of wild turkey broods while driving during their routine work schedules. In 2008, staff reported seeing 2.0 broods per 1,000 miles of driving. During 2009, the rate dropped to 1.3 broods per 1,000 miles. These data suggested lower recruitment in 2009 compared to 2008. Overall recruitment has been low for several years in a row.

Acorns are definitely a preferred food for wild turkeys and acorn availability drives wild turkey behavior patterns and harvest rates. With abundant acorn crops, wild turkey home ranges are smaller and they tend to spend more time in the forest. These conditions make fall hunting more challenging. In contrast, poor acorn crops increase home range size and use of open areas, which make turkeys more visible and vulnerable to hunting. The bottom-line is that wild turkey harvest rates decline when there is more food available and increase when food is less abundant.

Wildlife Division staff and foresters with the Virginia Department of Forestry monitor acorn and other food crops annually across the state. In 2009, mast conditions were generally poor with a few localized areas where mast was near or above normal levels.

Forty-seven percent of the fall wild turkey harvest was reported in the first 2 weeks of the 6-week season. Twelve percent of the harvest was reported on Thanksgiving Day. During the fall Youth Turkey Hunting Day, 34 birds were checked.

Most birds were taken on private lands (92%) with the balance coming from federal (6%) or state-owned (2%) lands.

Most birds were taken with a shotgun (40%). The balance of the harvest was taken with rifles (29%), muzzleloaders (23%), bows (4%), crossbows (3%), and pistols (1%).

In summary, the stable fall turkey harvest was likely the result of a combination of factors including poor reproductive performance and spotty mast conditions. Turkey populations were likely lower than last year, but because of higher harvest rates the kill was essentially stable.

For more information about white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and black bears visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website at www.dgif.virginia.gov. The website also contains information about wildlife management, hunting regulations, and hunting opportunities within the Commonwealth.

It is the mission of the VDGIF to maintain optimum populations of all species to serve the needs of the Commonwealth; to provide opportunity for all to enjoy wildlife, inland fish, boating and related outdoor recreation and to work diligently to safeguard the rights of the people to hunt, fish and harvest game as provided for in the Constitution of Virginia; to promote safety for persons and property in connection with boating, hunting and fishing; to provide educational outreach programs and materials that foster an awareness of and appreciation for Virginia's fish and wildlife resources, their habitats, and hunting, fishing, and boating opportunities.

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 http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/