Virginia DGIF Announces Harvest Numbers

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Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for bear, deer, and turkey harvests for the 2006-2007 fall seasons. Overall, there were no surprises. Bear numbers continue to trend upwards as the bear population continues to grow. Deer harvests are higher than the 10 year average but not record setting. The fall turkey harvest is down which is not surprising given poor reproduction since 2001 due to a number of factors.

Black Bear

Tracking with the population growth, Virginia's black bear harvest for this past fall increased to the highest annual level ever recorded at 1,633 bears. Over the past decade, the black bear harvest has been increasing at an average annual rate of 7.5% per year. The 2006-2007 harvest was 13% higher than last year's harvest of 1,439 bears and exceeded the previous 2003-2004 record of 1,511 by 8%.

The bear harvest west of the Blue Ridge Mountains was 1,231, up 10% from last season, and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains was 402, up 25% from last season. Similar to last year’s results, the eight counties surrounding Shenandoah National Park produced 41% (662 bears) of the total harvest.

The archery harvest of 425 bears made up 26% of the total harvest. Reflecting their increasing popularity, crossbows accounted for 38% of the entire archery harvest of bears. The four-day muzzleloading season accounted for 90 bears, 6% of the total harvest. This was down 38% from last year but in line with the year before that. The 2006-2007 regular firearms harvest of 1,118 bears was a 14% increase over last season. Dog hunters accounted for about 50% of the regular firearms harvest and about 33% of the total bears taken.

The black bear harvest was comprised of 35% females, which is consistent with the long-term average of 37% of the annual harvest being female.

White-Tailed Deer

During the 2006-2007 deer season, 223,198 white-tailed deer were reported as harvested in Virginia, 4% more than last season. This figure is 7% higher than the 10 year average but less than the record harvest in the 2003-2004 season of 235,944 deer. This year's total includes 105,595 antlered bucks, 19,652 button bucks, and 96,951 does. Females made up 43% of the overall harvest.

White-tailed deer management in Virginia is based on the fact that herd density and health are best controlled by regulating the number of antlerless deer harvested. Hunters have accepted this concept enthusiastically with the last four years each producing a record number of female deer harvested. For the first time in more than a decade, the percentage of female deer harvested in Fairfax and Loudoun has exceeded 50% of the harvest in those counties. Preliminary data suggests that the late antlerless season was a success for deer management in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Across Virginia, deer harvest numbers remained the same in the Northern Mountains when compared with last year, down 5% in the Northern Piedmont, up 6% in the Southern Mountains, up 11% in the Southern Piedmont, and up 6% in Tidewater.

Archery hunters harvested 24,151 deer, 11% of the overall harvest, with crossbows accounting for 7,051 of those deer. The crossbow take was up 28% from last season, which was the first season when all hunters could legally hunt with crossbows. Muzzleloading hunters harvested 52,215 deer, up 6% form last year. Muzzleloading comprised 23% of the total deer harvest.

Approximately 56% of the deer harvested (nearly 124,000 animals) were checked using the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' telephone checking system. This was up from 44% of the harvest in 2004-2005 and 51% in 2005-2006.

Wild Turkey

Fall wild turkey hunters reported a harvest of 4,143 birds in the 2006-2007 season. This figure was 6% below last year’s reported harvest. In the counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains the harvest declined 2%. Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains saw a 9% drop in harvest.

The decrease in the fall turkey harvest was likely due to a combination of effects. Population levels in wild turkeys have declined in recent years with poor recruitment, or reproduction, since 2001. Department research has identified inclement weather during spring nesting and brood rearing as factors related to poor recruitment. Cold March temperatures are believed to delay the onset of breeding and nesting, which can result in diminished reproductive effort in turkeys. Additionally, high rainfall amounts in April have been associated with poor nest success. Nest predation may be higher under these conditions as predators are likely to find birds in cool, moist environments. Reproductive conditions last spring may have been slightly poorer in counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains than in the western part of the state. This could possibly explain the larger decline in harvest in the east.

During the 2006-2007 fall turkey season, acorn, or mast, crops were generally similar to last season. In both years acorn crops were generally above average. Good mast crops tend to reduce harvest totals as birds are less vulnerable to hunting with good mast conditions, when they can more readily find food in forested areas and dense brush instead of venturing out in the open. Furthermore, similar mast crops between years generally result in similar fall harvests from year to year.

Despite the similarity in mast crops between years, harvest levels still declined, suggesting poor reproduction may be the more important factor limiting turkey populations and consequently hunter harvest of birds.

For more information about bear, deer and turkey hunting in the Commonwealth, including harvest histories, the top 10 counties and harvest data by county, visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Web site at www.dgif.virginia.gov.

It is the mission of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries 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 promote safety for persons and property in connection with these outdoor activities.