Gerald Almy: Deer harvest statistics released

Gerald Almy

Ask Shenandoah Valley deer hunters how many whitetails were harvested this past season in our area compared to the year before and chances are – at least judging from those I’ve talked to – they’ll say fewer.

They’ll be right. But only by a mere nine deer for Shenandoah County.

The preliminary tally for the recently completed 2017-18 hunting season shows 2,686 deer were killed in the county, compared to 2,695 the year before. Nine deer less. Most hunters would probably think the reduction in the kill would be far more significant than that.

And actually, these are just preliminary figures. So when the final tally is in, the harvest in Shenandoah County will, for all intents and purposes, be the same as the 2016-17 season.

What makes it understandable that hunters feel there were fewer deer in the woods and fewer deer taken is the pervasive slow decline that has taken place since the 2003-2004 period. And that decline became especially sharp during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. That’s when the deer kill dropped by around 700 animals.

The decline in whitetail numbers is a hard thing to deal with for many outdoorsmen in the valley who look forward to deer season each year more than almost anything. Of course, that’s not to say hunters don’t still enjoy the sport tremendously and find it rewarding. They just can’t help, in many cases, remembering how many more whitetails they saw 12-14 years ago.

In 2001 some 5,078 deer were harvested in Shenandoah County, almost twice as many as last year. This trend of topping 5,000 continued over four years and represented the peak of the population for the county’s deer herd.

It was likely more than the habitat could support in a healthy condition. And it was bound to decline, which it did. Kills for the next five years after that dropped into the 4,000-plus range, then by 2010 into the 3,000-plus range, until the 2016 season when 2,695 animals were taken.

This mirrors an overall statewide decline in whitetail numbers, one that was predicted and anticipated by Matt Knox, deer project coordinator. The goal was to lower the population and reduce deer-vehicle accidents, crop damage, and habitat damage. In Shenandoah County, however, the decline has been far steeper than in some parts of the state.

Overall, some 189,730 whitetails were collected this past season statewide, according to preliminary figures. This included 95,474 antlered bucks, 12,822 button bucks (male fawns), and 81,434 does. Firearms deer season accounted for 60 percent of the total, or 113,169 animals. Archery hunters took 27,630 whitetails. Muzzleloader hunters accounted for 48,811 deer.

Some hunters will say that too many does are being taken in the Shenandoah Valley. The decline of the herd does correspond to a harvest each year for nearly a decade that consisted of more does than bucks (over 50 percent). This occurred from 2006 until 2014.

During the last three seasons, the county’s female deer harvest has been lower, at 47.8, 45.3, and 43.3 percent of the total kill. Hopefully, this slight reduction in the number of does taken will allow deer numbers locally to climb a bit. Last year only 1,164 does were harvested in Shenandoah County, along with 149 male fawns and 1,373 antlered bucks.

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