Almy: Banner year reported for deer hunters

During the just-completed season Virginia whitetail hunters harvested 242,734 deer. This is up 13 percent from the 2012 season, when 215,241 deer were reported killed. It is also up more than 10,000, or four percent, above the 10-year average harvest of 232,600, according to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Among the deer harvested there were 106,230 antlered bucks, 20,082 “button bucks” and 116,304 does. Another 118 deer were killed but the sex not identified.

Does comprised 48 percent of the total harvest. This is way up from decades ago when only one-third or so of the deer harvest consisted of females. But that is the goal of the Game Division.

“The primary deer management effort over the past five to 10 years has been to increase the female deer kill over much of the state. Female deer kill numbers have been at record levels for the past eight consecutive deer seasons,” said deer program leader Matt Knox.

“These high and sustained female deer kill levels are intended to eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and a decline in total deer kill numbers.”

Some hunters are happy with that, wanting to decrease the total herd size and rebalance the sex ratio to some extent so that more deer you see will be bucks and some will grow slightly older, say to two or three-years of age instead of yearlings. But others are unhappy with the lower deer numbers.

Certainly the shift in Shenandoah County has been dramatic. Ten years ago an average of 5,000-plus deer were killed in the county each year. The last few years a little over 3,000 deer were taken.

Hunters are also seeing more slightly older bucks, though few are ever taken older than three years of age. As part of the Deer Management Assistant Program (DMAP), I see the reports on the age structure of some of the top private farms in the Shenandoah Valley. Even on those properties, bucks over three years of age are a rarity.

It’s a politically charged issue. Some hunters like to have fewer overall deer, but a greater percentage of bucks. Some don’t. Most non-hunters prefer fewer deer in general, so they won’t run into them with their cars and face high damage costs or perhaps serious injuries. But regardless of what any one hunter wants, for now that is the policy of the Game Department. Complaints need to be taken up at their public meetings if a change is desired.

As for the regions and weapons used, here are some details. Regular archery hunters took 15,649 deer, or 6 percent of the total kill. Crossbow hunters bagged 11,999, or 5 percent of the harvest.

Muzzleloader hunters accounted for an impressive 53,649 animals, or 22 percent of the total take. The rest were bagged with rifles or shotguns. The Youth Apprentice Deer Hunting Day in September saw 2,682 whitetails harvested by young hunters, a 36 percent increase over the previous year.

All regions saw increased deer harvests, and 90 of 97 specific deer management units had an increased harvest. Biologists believe that the nearly statewide mast failure resulted in more deer being killed last season. When oaks drop few acorns, deer have to travel more to find food and often appear in fields and open areas, exposing themselves more to hunters.

In light of the vicious winter we’ve experienced, it is a good thing at least for this past year that more deer were harvested. With no acorns and the record cold temperatures and lots of ground-covering snow, there is simply not enough food for the deer remaining.

I asked Fred Frenzel, local department biologist, about a possible deer kill from the winter weather. He said, “Yes, some deer kill is likely, especially the younger ones.”

The top county in the state for deer was Bedford, as it was the previous year. A whopping 8,700 deer were killed there. Second was Loudoun with 6,707, and third place went to Fauquier, with 5,785. No Shenandoah Valley area counties were in the top 10, even though for years Shenandoah County used to be in that listing.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.