Bear hunters came within a baker's dozen of tying the all-time harvest record this past season. Bow, rifle and muzzle loader hunters combined to take a total of 2,312 bears in the 2013-14 season, just slightly less than the highest recorded harvest ever--2,325 taken during the 2009-10 season.
Usually I focus on one type of fishing or hunting for this column, but for this week I thought it would be a nice change of pace to offer a mixed bag of tactics and strategies for various kinds of fishing. The theme for these tips is obvious: early season conditions.
Not many of us would choose winter as a favorite season for trout fishing, with its bleak gray landscape and raw air that penetrates cold-weary bones like a knife. But if the alternative is no fishing at all, never mind the weather. We'll make the plunge, wading out into the currents bundled up awkwardly in thick layers of clothes like stiff-legged Santa Clauses.
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.
Every year manufacturers come out with a collection of new hunting guns, ammo, optics and other items to try to get us to toss out our old and reliable, but somewhat dated gear. In case you're in the market to replace some equipment, or just want to know about some of the new items being unveiled, here's a look at a few of them.
This winter's brutal weather in the Shenandoah Valley has made things hard for food plot aficionados. There are not too many projects you can do when the temperature is 10 degrees and the wind chill is below zero and the ground is frozen like a block of cement.
Trout fishermen sometimes have a reputation of making things too complicated. Some of the more stuffy members of the group feel like every insect you imitate has to be identified with an impossible-to-pronounce Latin name and vests have to be stocked with thousands of different offerings to precisely match each little bug.
Louis Johnson, a retired Chicago foundry operator, was frustrated by the abundance of weeds that kept fouling the hooks on his lures in his favorite fishing lake. Eager to overcome the problem, he began tinkering with some household items, including a dinner spoon.
Ice froze in the guides of the fly rod as I cast to the school of fish hovering silently near the bottom of the stream. Suddenly a fish turned to the side and its white mouth opened. I set the hook quickly and was fast to a feisty rainbow trout. After a raucous battle, I worked the silver fish in close, twisted the hook free and watched as it darted back into the dark river currents.
With deer season now over, it's time to turn to grouse and other small game to finish out the hunting agenda for the year. It's true grouse populations aren't at the levels they were 30 years ago. But there are definitely enough of these beautiful brown and russet birds to make hunting them a worthwhile endeavor.
While it may be bitter cold out and hunting seasons are winding down, there are still plenty of things for the outdoor sportsman to do during mid-winter. Among the most popular activities for this "off season" is visiting the many fishing and hunting outdoor shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
After the rut is finished, bucks find themselves in precarious shape. They may have lost up to 20 percent or more of their body weight from fighting, chasing does and eating only sporadically. Survival demands that they replenish their lean, worn down bodies.
Hunting before a major snowstorm blows in can be immensely productive because deer can sense it coming and will be up and moving. Hunting immediately after it clears out can also be excellent because deer will be hungry and getting up to feed after hunkering down during the storm.
Whitetails have consistent spots where they traditionally enact the "chasing" phase of courtship. By locating these chasing grounds and hitting them during the prime time when does are just about to come into estrous, you can be in the sweet spot for tagging a mature buck.
Vic Gaspeny is a name well-known to saltwater anglers. The Tavernier, Fla., resident is a light tackle fishing guide in the Florida Keys who works out of the famous Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada, Fla. He's gained an international reputation for his ability to put anglers onto tarpon, and for helping pioneer "Day Dropping" for swordfish off the Florida coast.
Some hunters think staying put on their stand all day is a macho thing to do. Tough guys don't have to take a break and stretch or go back to camp for a hot meal. And they definitely shouldn't take a siesta during midday to recharge their batteries!
I've had the good fortune to hunt bears in many Canadian provinces and western states over the years. But most of my experience with bears in Virginia comes in the spring when I'm not actually hunting them but instead repairing the damage they do to property and discouraging them from coming around the house.
If you enticed a wild gobbler into shotgun or bow range this spring, count yourself very lucky, very skilled, or perhaps both. This is one type of hunting where the majority of participants go home empty-handed, so wary and elusive are these big, majestic black and brown birds. But we keep coming back, because few thrills can match watching a big tom with its tail feathers spread wide slowly, cautiously sneaking in towards our hen calls.