Fall hunting data released by state

Fall harvest numbers were down for deer and turkey, but increased for bears in 2014, according to data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Department officials have noted that the 2014 acorn mast harvest played a role in the overall harvest data for deer and turkeys.

A “good” mast harvest results in less movement of animals — especially deer — from place-to-place in search of food, noted Nelson Lafon, department deer project coordinator.

According to Lafon, the deer harvest was lower than expected and “one of the most significant drops” the department has seen for one year.

The official report from the department showed 190,745 deer harvested in 2014, a 22 percent drop from the 244,440 tally from 2013.

Lafon noted that the harvest for 2013 was up 13 percent from 2012, “which made this year look even worse than it really was.”

The decline, although sharper than the department was expecting, has still left the deer population above what Lafon described as the cultural caring capacity — a balance between too many and too little deer.

Department bear project leader Jamie Sajecki said that the department looks at the wants or needs of stakeholders, from farmers to hunters, when finding this balance for population management plans.

For the deer population, the department is attempting to reduce populations in targeted areas where the density might be “moderate or severe.”

“I think we are closer to … that balance today than we were 10 years ago, for sure,” Lafon said.

With the slow rise of chronic wasting disease in the state, Lafon said they would like to “keep the deer population as low as possible.”

The hope with this approach is to reduce the spread or transmission of the disease by lowering deer population densities around the state, Lafon said.

“Frankly, we would probably have to get deer densities much lower than anyone would tolerate, especially hunters,” Lafon said.

On that note, Lafon said a drop in deer harvest “is not necessarily a bad thing” in relation to the department’s plan.

For turkeys, department wildlife biologist Dave Steffen said that the acorn mast had a hand the 44 percent dip between 2013 and 2014.

Steffen said a drop such as this is “not unusual, particularly in a good mast year.”

“We don’t think of a one-year change as particularly meaningful, especially for our fall harvest of turkey,” Steffen added.

Steffen added that the department relies more heavily on its spring gobbler harvest for an accurate portrait of turkey population index.

As a whole, Steffen said that turkey populations are “harder to manage than deer or bears” partly because only 12 percent of hen mortality is due to hunting.

The department’s turkey management goal is essentially to increase the population density in certain areas of the state, including Warren, Frederick and Page counties.

One method the department had employed to work toward this is to restrict the fall hunting season for turkeys.“We can control that 12 percent by shortening or lengthening the fall season.”

Steffen said, “The initial indication is that we may have turned that around.”

However, Steffen added that, since this indication comes from one to two years of data, it is “too soon to tell” if that is indeed the case.

“The pattern looks promising,” he said.

Unlike turkey and deer, black bear harvest numbers increased 4 percent from 2,312 to 2,405.

Sajecki said that the numbers for 2014 bear fall harvest were greatly affected by the new Sunday hunting regulations.

“If it wasn’t for Sunday hunting, our harvest would have been very similar to last year,” Sajecki said.

At the same time, Sajecki added that it is too early to tell how the Sunday hunting laws might affect bear populations.

Sajecki did note that, for management zones pertaining to counties such as Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick, the department was meeting its population objectives.

According to the department’s black bear management plan, the zones pertaining the counties of Shenandoah, Warren and Page share objectives of stabilizing the black bear population.

This stability, Sajecki explained, was attained in those zones before the department instituted the Sunday hunting laws.

Sajecki said it is “hard to tell” how Sunday hunting might impact bear population management moving forward, but that the department will monitor this moving forward.

For the state’s deer population, Lafon said the department is going to be instituting a new management plan for 2015, with the current plan expiring this year.

“It’s in revision right now. We started last spring and we should be finished this summer,” Lafon said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com