Virginia Releases Black Bear, Deer and Turkey 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 2007- 2008 fall seasons. Several notable results of the 2007-2008 hunting season stand out. Deer harvests reached a record high this past season but even more importantly the doe harvest was greater than the buck kill for the first time since the check station system was initiated in 1947. The bear harvest was the second highest kill documented in Virginia and continues to show an increasing trend over the past decade. The fall turkey kill also increased over last year, an encouraging change considering turkey production has been poor in recent years. A summary of the preliminary harvest numbers for all three seasons follows.

Black Bear

In Virginia, 1,517 bears were harvested during the 2007-08 season. According to VDGIF Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki, Virginia's black bear harvest trend has been increasing at an average annual rate of 7.4% per year over the past decade. The 2007-08 harvest was 7.5% less than last year’s harvest of 1,633 bears but was very similar to the 2003-04 harvest of 1,511 bears and the second highest bear harvest documented in Virginia.

Bear harvests west and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains were 1,034 (68% of the harvest) and 482 (32 % of the harvest), respectively. Comparatively, in 2006, 75% of the harvest was west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Similar to the last few years, the eight counties surrounding Shenandoah National Park produced 38% (575 bears) of the total bear kill. The archery harvest of 393 bears (25% of the total harvest) was comparable to the 2006-07 season. Also similar to the 2006-07 season, crossbows accounted for 38% of the entire archery harvest of bears. Over 70% of the archery harvest occurred west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The four-day muzzleloading season accounted for 92 bears (6.1% of the total harvest). This was similar to the 6% of total bears harvested during the 2006-07 muzzleloading season. The 2007-08 regular firearms harvest of 1,032 bears was slightly down from the harvest of 1,118 bears in the 2006-07 season. Hunters who hunt with dogs accounted for 52% of the regular firearms harvest and 35% of the total bear kill. Similar to the long-term average of 37%, the harvest was comprised of 35% females. Bear hunters in all seasons and hunter groups harvested a similar proportion of females. The percent female composition of the archery, muzzleloader, and regular firearms season was 37%, 34%, and 34%, respectively. Female bears represented 31% of the hound-hunter harvest. Further questions on the bear harvest for the 2007-2008 season can be directed to Jaime Sajecki at Jaime.Sajecki@dgif.virginia.gov or at 804-367-8001.

White-Tailed Deer

According to VDGIF Deer Project Leader Matt Knox, a record number of 240,423 deer were reported killed by hunters in Virginia this past season. This total included 108,670 antlered bucks, 22,735 button bucks, and 109,018 does (representing 45.3% of the overall harvest). This represents a >7% increase from the 223,775 deer reported killed last year. It is also 13% higher than the last 10 year average of 212,550. White-tailed deer management in Virginia is based on the fact that herd density and health are best controlled by regulating antlerless deer kill levels and female deer kill numbers have been at record levels for the past five consecutive years. Knox reported that for 2007, the doe kill was up 12% from 2006 and was 21% greater than the average for the past 10 years. In fact, during 2007, the doe kill was greater than the antlered buck kill for the first time since the check station system was initiated in 1947.

Across the state, deer kill levels were up in all regions including the Northern Mountains (8%), Northern Piedmont (7%), Southern Mountains (8%), Southern Piedmont (5%), and Tidewater (7%).

Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 17,335 deer. The bow kill was up 1% from the 17,160 deer taken by archers last year. The bow kill comprised 7% of the total deer kill. Crossbows, which were legal for all deer hunters for the first time in fall 2005, resulted in a deer kill of 8,549 deer or <4% of the total deer kill. The crossbow kill was up 21% from the 7,069 reported last year.

Muzzleloader hunters killed 55,434 deer. The muzzleloader kill was up 6% from the 52,386 deer taken by muzzleloader hunters last year. Muzzleloading comprised 23% of the total deer kill. Nearly 138,000 deer (>57%) were checked using VDGIF’s telephone checking system. This was up from 44% in 2004, 51% in 2005, and 55% in 2006. Approximately 6,300 (<3%) deer were checked by internet, through the Department's Web site: www.dgif.virginia.gov. Further questions on the 2007-2008 deer harvest can be directed to Matt Knox at Matt.Knox@dgif.virginia.gov or at 434-525-7654.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey Project Supervisor Gary Norman reported fall turkey hunters harvested 4,759 birds in the 2007-08 season. This harvest was 15% percent above last year's reported kill of 4,143 birds. The harvest increased 24% in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (2,077 vs. 1,673). Counties east of the Blue Ridge increased 9 percent (2,682 vs. 2,470). Scott County led all counties with a harvest of 171 birds. Cumberland and Floyd counties were new to the top 10 county list of fall harvested birds while Dinwiddie and Alleghany counties dropped out of the top 10.

Norman was encouraged with the increased fall harvest. "Production has been poor in recent years and our turkey population growth has slowed," he noted. "So, this year's increase in fall harvest is good news for our turkey hunters." VDGIF has been concerned with the declining trend in fall turkey hunting as fewer hunters are choosing the challenging sport. To partially address this issue, the Board of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recently passed a special fall youth hunt that will take place on October 18, 2008. The hunt will provide young people with an opportunity to experience the thrills and excitement that fall turkey hunting offers.

Norman said that this past season's higher harvest was due in part to below-average mast crops. Poor mast crops tend to increase harvest rates as birds spend more time in fields and clearings searching for food and are typically more vulnerable to hunting under these conditions. Compared to last year, mast crops were lower in all regions of the state except the North Piedmont, where conditions were similar to 2006.

Most birds were taken on private lands (90%) with the balance coming from federal (8%) or state-owned (2%) lands. Archers took 4% of the harvest in the early part of the archery season. During the firearms season, 52% of successful hunters took birds with a shotgun, 28% with a rifle, 14% with a muzzleloader, and 2% used other weapons. Approximately 23% of the harvest was reported during the first week of the season. This was the highest weekly harvest reported in counties with the 6-week fall season. Following the first week, the harvest was generally uniform, ranging from 9 to 15% during the remaining 5 weeks of the season. Thirteen percent of the harvest came on Thanksgiving Day.

Further questions on the fall turkey harvest can be directed to Gary Norman at Gary.Norman@dgif.virginia.gov or 540-248-9389.

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.