Virginia's Floyd County Deer Need Focus of Hunters

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Deer seasons and bag limits in Floyd County are the most liberal offered in western Virginia. Yet over the past decade Floyd County has averaged more out-of-season deer kill permits than any county in the state except Albemarle (Charlottesville) and Fairfax, both of which have significant urban deer management issues. These permits are issued to farmers and landowners who demonstrate damage due to deer.

VDGIF's deer data indicates that the Floyd County deer population has been stable over the past decade at a moderate population density. This is consistent with the Department's previous deer population management objective for Floyd County to maintain a stable deer population. However, effective in 2007, the deer management objective for Floyd County in the revised Deer Management Plan changed from stabilize the deer herd to reduce the deer herd (The plan can be found on the Department's website at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/management-plan/).

Has deer hunting failed in Floyd County? No, in fact it has been successful in stabilizing the deer population. If it were not for the current level of deer hunting, the deer-human conflicts would have increased even faster.

To meet the new deer population management objective and to reduce the deer population in Floyd County, changes in "how" deer hunters hunt will be needed. The bottom line is that increased doe harvests on a sustained annual basis are necessary to reduce deer populations. Most hunters, given the choice, prefer to shoot an antlered buck instead of a doe. But female deer control the deer population. No one has ever controlled a deer population by shooting antlered bucks.

Basically, if one buck is killed, a single deer has been removed from the deer population with virtually no long-term impact on the overall population. If the buck had survived for a decade, he would have been only a single deer a decade later. One buck can breed with a number of does, so removing the majority of bucks has little or no impact on the number of fawns born. But what about shooting a doe? If one doe is harvested, a single deer has been removed from the deer population, true, but if she had survived for a decade, she and her female offspring could have contributed many deer to the deer herd. The lesson here is simple. Harvesting bucks will not control deer populations; harvesting does will. Floyd County deer hunters must begin taking more does if we are going to reduce deer populations.

Will shooting more does wipe out the deer? No, but hopefully it will result in lower deer population densities, meaning less agricultural damage and fewer deer/vehicle collisions. White-tailed deer would continue to be an integral part of the culture and ecosystem in Floyd County, just at lower levels. It is estimated that it will take 3-5 years of intensive doe harvests to reduce deer populations substantially.

So why should deer hunters make this change in the way they deer hunt? The simple answer is that many Floyd County landowners are suffering unacceptable levels of deer damage at the current deer population level. This past spring, at the request of Floyd County Board of Supervisors member David Ingram, VDGIF staff met with a group of Floyd County farmers and heard about deer damage to their crops. Increased damage will lead to more requests for kill permits and the potential for more deer killed out of season in Floyd County. As the state agency responsible for managing the deer resource, VDGIF would much rather see these deer taken by local deer hunters during the "normal" deer season(s).

In short, deer management in Virginia has changed. For much of the past century, the Department and its constituents worked diligently to restore deer populations across the Commonwealth. In Virginia, deer populations increased from an estimated population of 25,000 deer in the early 1930s to approximately 900,000 to one million deer today. This effort has been one of the most remarkable wildlife success stories of the 20th century. Today, management emphasis is on controlling deer herd growth, and, in many areas, reducing deer herds. Currently, the only economically feasible way to achieve these goals is through regulated deer hunting.

In the long run, reducing the deer population will benefit the deer herd and deer hunters themselves. Deer quantity and deer quality share an inverse relationship. More deer results in smaller, less healthy deer; fewer deer result in bigger, healthier deer and healthier habitat. Please help us to help these farmers.

For more information on the Department's deer management program(s), on deer seasons and hunting regulations, please visit the Department's Web site at www.dgif.virginia.gov.