Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

Whitetail hunters harvested 206,976 deer during the just completed 2019-20 season. This total is up about 9% from the 190,636 animals taken by hunters the year before, according to Matt Knox, Deer Project Leader for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Shenandoah County hunters also experienced higher success in the deer woods. A total of 3,162 animals were harvested. This compares to 2,871 the previous year. The buck tally for our county also increased. There were 1,456 antlered males (one year and a half or older) taken. The year before only 1,289 were killed by sportsmen. This represented 46% of the total deer harvest, compared to 44.8% for the year before. The rest were does or “button bucks,” deer born that spring.

Statewide, the total harvest included 99,994 antlered bucks, 901 bucks that had shed their antlers already, 13,820 button bucks and 92,261 does.

Youth and apprentice deer hunting weekend resulted in a take of 2,067 deer. Archery season saw a harvest of 30,185, around 15% of the total. Muzzleloader hunters took 54,112 deer, or 26%. Those blackpowder hunters enjoy the most productive time of all in the woods—the pre-rut, when bucks are moving a lot and chasing does. Often when the regular firearms season arrives, deer are in lockdown, breeding with does and hunkering down in cover with less movement. That makes it harder to see animals from one’s stand.

Knox said “the majority of the increase in the fall 2019 harvest can be attributed to the liberalization of either-sex deer hunting days and expansion of the Earn A Buck program. These changes resulted in a significantly higher number of antlerless deer being taken, which increased over 10,000 from fall 2018 to fall 2019.”

Knox noted that the data in this harvest summary do not include deer taken during the late urban archery or special late antlerless-only deer seasons. They also don’t include deer taken on kill permits or those struck by vehicles.

Shenandoah County hunters in general seemed happy with the recent season. Many of them, however, don’t like the Game Department’s program that reduced the doe population over recent years with increased doe kills. They like to see a lot of animals and aren’t too concerned about looking for an older buck.

These hunters recall the “old days” when deer numbers were much higher. Hunters saw more activity in the woods then, and they came home with more animals. In the 2003 season, for instance, some 5,580 deer were taken, with 46% of them, 2,527, being bucks.

One new figure included in the recent harvest stastistics is the number of bucks that had dropped their antlers. This is a very interesting and disappointing statistic. When hunters shoot an antlerless deer, they are hoping it is a doe. They want to help “balance the herd,” and they just want to take home some venison to stock the freezer.

The fact that some of those animals were actually bucks that had dropped their horns is disheartening. In Shenandoah County eight such deer were taken last year. That’s not a large number, but one wonders how large a rack those bucks would have had the following year. This type of “mistake” only occurs late in the season, since few antlers are shed before late December or early January. One wonders if the season should be compressed a bit, with no January hunting. To balance it out and not take away hunting days, the opening dates could be move up.

All told, for the entire state, some 901 bucks that had dropped their racks were harvested by hunters in the recent season.

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