Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for deer, turkey, and bear harvests for the 2011-2012 fall/winter hunting seasons. The white-tailed deer harvest was slightly up from last year while the turkey harvest increased significantly. The bear harvest was down from the previous year. Poor and spotty mast crops across the state this past fall coupled with management actions to meet population objectives all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends. The harvest figures continue to indicate that good hunting is available across the Commonwealth for these popular game species. Data presented in these summaries are preliminary.
During the past deer season 231,454 deer were reported killed by hunters in Virginia. This total included 98,770 antlered bucks, 20,738 button bucks, and 111,830 does (48.3%). The fall 2011 deer kill total was higher (up 4%) than the 222,074 deer reported killed last year. It is in line with the last 10 year average of 230,850.
Deer kill levels were down slightly in Tidewater (down 2%) but were up in all other regions including the Southern Piedmont (up 6%), Northern Piedmont (up 5%), Southern Mountains (up 13%) and Northern Mountains (up 3%).
Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 17,110 deer. The bow kill comprised 7% of the total deer kill. Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 10,877 deer or 5% of the total deer kill. Muzzleloader hunters killed 55,306 deer or 24% of the total deer kill. Over 166,000 deer (72%) were checked using the Department's telephone and Internet checking systems.
The Department's deer management efforts over the past five years to increase the female deer kill over much of the state, especially on private lands, has been very successful. Female deer kill numbers have been at record levels for the past five consecutive deer seasons. These high and sustained female deer kill levels were intended to eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and a decline in total deer kill numbers.
It should be noted however, that the Department is currently actively managing to increase deer populations in the Cumberland Plateau counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise, in the Alleghany Highland counties of Alleghany, Bath, and Highland and on National Forest lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
During the 2011-2012 bear hunting seasons 1,997 bears were harvested during the archery, muzzleloader, and firearms seasons. The 2011 harvest resulted in an approximate 10% decrease over last year's reported kill of 2,221 bears. In 2011, bears were harvested in 73 counties including the first legal bear harvest in Henrico County in numerous decades. Female bears represented 42% of the 2011 harvest, which was greater than the 2010 harvest (39%) but equal to the 2009 harvest (42%).
Archery hunters accounted for 693 bears during 2011, 35% of the total harvest. This was the third year of the 6-week statewide season for bowhunters, and although the archery kill was higher than last year (2010 - 409 bears) it was less than 2009 (1,017 bears). As expected with the poor mast crop, archery success increased this year over 2010 and was comparable to the archery harvest reported in years with limited or spotty fall mast. Archery success typically increases during poor mast years and decreases when acorns are abundant. The top three archery counties were Rockingham (52), Page (50), and Warren (31). Crossbow hunters accounted for 42% of the total archery kill. The harvest from the archery season was 42% female compared to 40% females in 2010 and 44% in 2009.
Muzzleloader hunting opportunities were expanded in 2011 and were available for the first time in southwest Virginia. The statewide 1- week muzzleloader harvest accounted for 265 bears (13% of the total harvest). The new season in Southwest Virginia resulted in the harvest of 55 bears. The total muzzleloader harvest was less than both the 2010 (342 bears) and 2009 (356 bears) seasons. The top three muzzleloading counties were Rockingham (22), Page (20), and Augusta (14). The harvest from the muzzleloader season was composed of 42% females compared to 41% females in 2010 and 51% in 2009.
Representing 52% of the total kill, the 2011 firearms season yielded 1,039 bears, a decrease from the 2010 harvest (1,428 bears, 66% of harvest) and an increase from the 2009 firearms harvest of 931. Hound hunters accounted for 64% of the firearms kill in 2011 (33% of harvest), which was an increase over 2010 (57%), 2009 (48%), and 2008 (47%). The top three general firearms counties were Augusta (109), Rockingham (96), and Rockbridge (67). General firearms hunters who did not use hounds harvested 45% females (40% in 2010, 42% in 2009), while hound hunters harvested 39% females (36% in 2010, 30% in 2009).
The 2011-2012 Virginia bear harvest is similar to other Mid-Appalachian states including West Virginia that saw a slight decrease in the number of bears harvested over last season. This slight decrease was within the expected harvest levels for a year with a poor and spotty fall mast crop. Black bears are managed through population objectives in the Black Bear Management Plan. The bear population objectives are currently being revised for the Revised Black Bear Management Plan and subsequent bear harvest seasons will be structured according to the new bear population objectives.
FALL WILD TURKEY
During the 2011-2012 fall turkey season, 3,470 turkeys were harvested. This harvest was 29% above last year's reported kill (2,687). The harvest increased 15% in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (1,267 vs. 1,102). Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains increased 39% (2,203 vs. 1,585). Botetourt led all counties with a harvest of 119 birds. Most of the harvest was reported on private lands. Thirty-seven birds were harvested on the Youth Fall Turkey Hunt Day.
The 2011-2012 season was the first year a separate January season was offered. Virtually all of the comments received on the January season were positive. The harvest in the thirteen day January season was 273 birds.
This year also marked the first time fall turkey kills could be checked using the phone or on the internet. Hunters reported 57% of their harvest using either method.
The increase in the harvest was expected given good reproduction and spotty mast crops. Turkey harvest rates typically increase when acorns are scattered. Birds tend to travel further with low mast crops in search of food which oftentimes takes them near or in openings or fields. As a result, their home ranges increase and birds become more visible, easy to locate, and easier to hunt.
Additionally, it appears reproduction was higher than average, although the increase was not uniform across all regions. Turkey reproduction is typically highly variable and may be influenced by many factors; the greatest is believed to be inclement weather during the 2 weeks following hatching. Juvenile birds typically make up a majority of the fall harvest, so a good hatch can add to the fall take. Taken together, average mast crops and above-average reproduction likely contributed to the harvest increase.