During the recently closed deer season did you have better hunting than the year or two before, or worse? Many hunters I spoke with during and after the season experienced difficult hunting. Mature bucks seemed to be scarce or not moving during daylight hours, and even does weren’t as common in a lot of areas.
But the statistics have just come in from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and last year’s harvest was actually just a few deer below the previous year, and over 170 deer more than the year before that. In the 2018-19 season, Shenandoah County hunters took 2,871 deer, down just 15 from the year before, when 2,686 animals were taken. The year before that, the 2016 season, 2,695 were killed. That was the first year in the very sharp decline that started between 2016 and the year before. In 2015, a much higher total of 3,398 deer were harvested.
Going back even further, Shenandoah County hunters took over 5,200 bucks in the 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons. But then deer numbers were at unsustainable levels and kill figures like that could not be realistically expected to last.
At least the last three seasons have seen a fairly stable harvest, so maybe we can at least stay at these levels and not decline further.
For those 2,871 deer taken, according to preliminary figures from the Game Department, 146 were male fawns or “button bucks.” Some 1,289 were females. The remainder, or 1,436, were antlered bucks at least one and a half years old. The percentage of females in the harvest was 44.8. This is basically average for the county, ranging from 43 to 50 percent over the last five years.
Hunters in other local counties also fared well in the recent season. Rockingham hunters collected 4,183 deer. Frederick County deer hunters bagged 3,089 whitetails. In Warren County, a total of 1,307 animals were harvested. In Page the tally was 1,096. All of these were increases from the previous year.
Statewide, the deer harvest was 190,636. Matt Knox, Deer Project Coordinator, said he expected the total statewide 2018 harvest might be down slightly for two reasons. “First, much of the Commonwealth experienced heavy rain and high winds on several of the big deer hunting weekends. Second, the continued steady decline in the number of licensed deer hunters in Virginia could result in fewer deer being harvested. A portion of the decline appears to be related to the ‘baby boomers’ getting older and retiring from hunting.”
Last year’s statewide harvest consisted of 12,342 button bucks, 82,055 does and 96,239 antlered deer one-and-a-half years or older.
Youth and apprentice deer hunting weekend resulted in 2,778 deer being taken. Knox said archery season produced 26,676 deer. For the first time ever, crossbow hunters took more of those deer than traditional archery hunters. Muzzleloader hunters had a good season, taking 43,749 whitetails.
Firearms hunters (both rifle and shotgun) collected 120,074 deer. This represents 63 percent of the total. In the 59 eastern Virginia counties where dogs may be used to hunt deer, this method accounted for approximately 51 percent of the firearms deer total. The percent of deer taken with the aid of dogs ranged from just a few percent in northern Virginia up to 80-90 percent in some Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and southeastern counties.
Even if hunting in Shenandoah and nearby counties isn’t quite up to what it was in the early years of this century, the whitetail herd has come a long way with the efforts of biologists, conservationists, and hunters.
Consider this: back in 1947, only 104 deer were taken in Shenandoah County!