Talk to three different deer hunters about the present quality of deer hunting in the Shenandoah Valley and you’ll likely get three different opinions. The fact is, hunting quality can vary widely from property to property. It can vary dramatically from day to day. And it can be different from one season to the next.
So there really is no simple answer to how the hunting will be when gun seasons start to open first with muzzleloaders and then with modern rifles in November. Bow hunters so far are reporting fair to good deer activity, but few big bucks on the move.
Last year hunters statewide harvested 191,947 whitetails, according to Virginia Deer Project Coordinator Matt Knox. The total included 96,442 antlered bucks (1 ½ years or older), 12,543 button bucks (less than one year), and 82,962 does. That means does comprised about 43 percent of the harvest, which is considered a good ratio of bucks to does in the harvest.
For the first time ever, according to Knox, crossbow hunters harvested more deer than traditional archery hunters. The total archery and crossbow take totaled together was 14 percent of the overall harvest.
Muzzleloader hunters collected 23 percent of the whitetail deer hunters brought home for dinner. This is not surprising in light of the early crack black-powder gun hunters get at the deer before rifle season opens. That is also the prime hunting time of early November, when bucks are first starting to chase does and are far more active than they are during archery seasons in October.
Modern firearms still accounted for 63 percent of the harvest in 2018-19.
Locally, Shenandoah County hunters harvested 2,871 deer last year, down just 15 from the previous season (2018), but over 200 above the 2017 season.
A few new rules for this coming season are on tap. All of the details are on the dgif.virginia.gov website. Here are a few of special interest, though. For one, drones cannot be used “for the purposes of hunting.” That one sounds a bit vague and may have to be clarified a bit more in the future. For instance, can you use them to scout an area?
Full season either sex deer hunting has been established during both early and late muzzleloader seasons in Rockingham County east of routes 613 and 731.
Earn A Buck (EAB) has been initiated on private lands in Shenandoah County.
The deer bag limit on private lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains has been increased to two per day, but only one on government lands such as the national forest.
The antler point restriction regulations have been dropped in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties in an effort to keep chronic wasting disease from spreading.
A firearms either-sex deer hunting day (the last day) has been initiated on national forest lands in Rockingham and Shenandoah, Frederick, Page, and Warren counties.
Finally, a new regulation prohibits importation of whole deer carcasses or the head, neck and spinal cord of deer from outside Virginia.
Knox said hemorrhagic disease outbreaks were very low across the state this past fall. That is certainly good news for deer and deer hunters. Unfortunately, the first case of chronic wasting disease was found in Culpeper County, a new area. A CWD management area has been established in that location including that county as well as Madison and Orange.
The forecast for this fall? More of the same, says Knox. “A major increase or decrease in the total from the last couple of years is not expected. Deer populations should be similar to last year.”
So if you have one of those better areas to hunt, you’ll likely be happy. If not, try to find one, or manage the habitat where you hunt to improve it is the best advice.
Good luck, and always keep safety foremost in mind.