Gerald Almy: Virginia deer harvest increases

Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

Virginia hunters harvested 209,197 deer in the just-completed 2015-16 season. That’s an increase of 16,919 over last year’s harvest of 192,278. The total included 103,310 antlered bucks (1 ½ years or older), 15,000 button bucks, and 90,887 does. Females represented 43 percent of the harvest statewide.

The special Youth Deer Hunting period was extended to two days in September for the first time in 2015. Those young hunters did quite well, collecting 3,076 deer. Regular archery hunters tallied 15,078 deer, or 7 percent of the total harvest. Crossbow hunters accounted for 11,719 whitetails, or about 6 percent of the kill.

Muzzleloader hunters took 42,517 deer, or 20 percent of the total harvest. About 167,700 deer (80 percent) were checked in using the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ telephone and Internet checking system.

Matt Knox, leader of the state’s deer program, said “stable or declining deer kill trends over the past decade in Virginia were expected. But the ups and downs in recent years’ deer kill totals were in some part attributable to mast conditions and Hemorrhagic Disease outbreaks.”

“The Department’s primary deer management effort over the past decade was to increase the female deer kill over much of the state, especially on private lands, to meet the objective of stabilizing or reducing deer populations, as outlined in the Department’s deer management plan.”

The Game Department’s deer management staff anticipated that these high and sustained female deer harvest levels would eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and the stable to declining total deer kill numbers that we’ve experienced over the past decade.

These figures for the deer harvest are preliminary and do not include deer taken during the late urban archery season or special local late seasons. They also do not include deer killed on highways or taken with out-of-season crop damage permits sometimes allotted to farmers.

Locally, Shenandoah Valley deer hunters were relieved to see more deer in the woods this year and have better success at harvesting them. The number of whitetails available was definitely higher than in 2014, when the deer harvest plummeted over 20 percent. But they are nowhere near levels of a decade ago.

The fact is those numbers were likely higher than the habitat would support at a quality level. Realizing that, more and more hunters have been choosing to take does, to better balance the sex ratio. A large number of hunters are also passing up smaller bucks hoping they’ll live to later age classes. That too, reduces the harvest.

In Shenandoah County the 2015-16 harvest included 1,538 antlered bucks, 235 button bucks, and 1,625 does, for a total of 3,318 deer.

In the 2004-05 season, by comparison, the tally was 5,268 deer. That was the highest level in the last decade.

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If you latch onto a fish in the lower Shenandoah River that looks something like a smallmouth bass but a bit strange with milky eyes and sharp teeth, that would be a walleye. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says every year anglers are catching some big walleyes in the river below Front Royal. These are fish left over from a stocking in 2007 and are quite large.

Other stockings were made in 2014 and 2015. The earlier one had poor survival, but 2015’s stocking appears to be doing very well so far, according to state fishery biologists.

This is a great addition to the Shenandoah River’s already excellent smallmouth, rockbass, and redbreast fishing. Walleyes are one of the best eating fish in freshwater. If you latch onto one, handle it with care. You have the main ingredient for a great fish dinner.

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

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