As this issue was being delivered in the dark hours of this morning, many hunters were already up and brewing coffee, ready to head into the fields and forests for what promises to be another bountiful deer harvest. Today is the opening of general firearms season.
Last hunting season, 253,678 deer were killed in Virginia, with Shenandoah County among the top 10 counties with 4,523. That was up from 4,437 in 2007, a continuation of strong growth in the harvest going back to 1972, when fewer than 50,000 deer were killed in Virginia.
The greatest increase has been in the number of antlerless deer kills after several changes were made to the hunting season and regulations to boost the number of female deer taken. There are now an estimated 850,000 to 1 million deer in the state, "which although frequently cited as [overpopulation] by the press," according to the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is a low to moderate density and below the carrying capacity of the habitat.
Despite some of the harm caused by deer -- vehicle collisions and crop damage, for example -- the state's white-tailed deer are a beneficial social and economic resource. Spending by both in- and out-of-state hunters is estimated at $511 million for all game, the department says.
Chronic wasting disease, which has been found in deer in West Virginia, remains a concern. The game department asks hunters in Frederick and Shenandoah counties to have their deer tested if they harvest any today, Monday or Jan. 2 (the last day of deer season) in an "active surveillance area" in both counties north of Wolf Gap Road and west of Interstate 81. Sampling stations are Graden's Supermarket at Lebanon Church on Va. 55, Gore Grocery on U.S. 50 west, State Line Store on Va. 127 and T&R Processing off U.S. 50 east. There is a mandatory sampling area in southwestern Frederick County south of Va. 55 and west of Va. 600. The VDGIF Web site has maps.
Have a safe and enjoyable hunting season.