Saturday, March 14, 2015


Winter is coming to an end and the memories of the past year’s hunting seasons are beginning to fall victim to the looming anticipation of spring.  Soon, this seasonal, expired fad we call snow will disappear into moist earth, sprouting daffodil shoots and lighting dogwood and redbud blooms.  Rivers will run deep and blue, turkey will throw their bold voices about the countryside, and the woods will radiate with the warmth of renewed life.  But before we commit to a new season, as per tradition, DGIF has released the summarizing data of last year’s deer, bear, and turkey harvests to reflect upon.


    The 2014-15 deer seasons saw 190,745 deer harvested, a 22% reduction from 2013-14’s 244,440, and an 18% shortfall of the last 10-year’s average of 233,350.  88,148 of deer harvested were antlered bucks, while 14,592 were antlerless.

    The youth-apprentice deer hunting day in September resulted in the harvest of 1,890 total animals.

    The steep overall reduction in harvest numbers did not go unnoticed by area hunters, particularly in the counties of central Virginia.  Though levels were down statewide, hunters east of the Blue Ridge harvested 24% fewer deer than in 2013-14.

    The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers as an explanation that, over the past five to 10 years, the primary focus of the Virginia Deer Management Plan has been to increase the female deer harvest in an effort to stabilize the deer population, particularly on private lands.  Still, the decline in harvest rates in 2014-15 is larger than expected, largely due to a liberal allowance of doe days since 2008.

    Such regulations aimed to thin the herd and, thus, the harvest numbers, even without the added effects of hemorrhagic disease (HD)--a general depiction of several viral strains transmitted by small biting midges that typically results in a 20-35% reduction in kill numbers.  Outbreaks of HD are fairly common, and herds usually recover in 2-3 years.  HD was found in at least 28 Virginia counties in 2014-15.

    A more common and natural reason for the past season’s decrease in harvest numbers is the bumper mast crop enjoyed by wildlife statewide.  Widespread plentitude of mast reduces game’s need to move to feed, and thus reduces hunter success rates.


    An all-time Virginia record of 2,405 black bears were killed during the 2014-15 season, a 4% increase over last year’s 2,312.

    Youth-apprentice hunters killed 109 bears, one less than in 2013-14.

    Strong mast crop typically increases the firearms bear harvest in Virginia, and this year was a prime example, seeing a 40% increase over last year’s kill number.  Hunters who ran bear hounds west of the Blue Ridge were unsurprisingly the most successful, bagging 970 bears, 40% of the total harvest.  Collectively, bear hunters west of the Blue Ridge took 68% of the total harvest, though bears were harvested in 76 counties and cities across the state.

    The first year of Sunday bear hunting resulted in 119 bear harvests, roughly 5% of the total.  

    Though this number represents a minimal impact on bear populations, biologists will continue to monitor the effects of Sunday hunting on black bear numbers in years to come to quantify the long-term impacts of this new piece of legislation.


    Hunters reported a total harvest of 2,988 turkeys killed during the fall and winter seasons in 2014-15, a 44% deficit of 2013-14’s number.

    Numbers were reduced statewide, though those east of the Blue Ridge noticed the most substantial reduction, with 49% fewer birds bagged.  Those hunting west of the Blue Ridge still suffered a 36% drop in harvests.  Nevertheless, the turkey harvest numbers relative to area remained almost perfectly uniform across the state.

    Youth-apprentice hunters took a total of 29 birds, as opposed to last year’s 50.

    The two-week turkey hunting season in January instituted four years ago accounted for 179 birds, down from last year’s 265.  Hunters taking to the woods in January enjoy a period of light-pressure hunting with the added bonus possibility of being able to track birds in snow.
Sunday hunting only accounted for 5% of the total turkey harvest, as opposed to Saturday’s dominant 27%.  Again, this suggests that the new legislation has little effect on overall populations.

    Again, lowered hunter success rate is credited to a high mast production juxtaposed with a very poor mast crop in 2013, which resulted in higher-than-average harvests.  DGIF Wild Turkey Project Leader, Gary Norman believes the Commonwealth’s turkey population to be in excellent condition, as participants in the annual August Brood Survey reported record numbers of broods and birds.

    Even with harvest numbers significantly down in 2014-15, a large portion of the deficit can be attributed to natural phenomena.  Game populations appear to be in good and bettering conditions. 

    Come on, spring!

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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