Tuesday, March 15, 2016


The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries released the 2015-16 season harvest data for bear, deer, and turkey last week, and the numbers check out well, continuing a stable trend upheld over the past decade.


    The 2015-16 hunting season saw the second largest black bear harvest in recorded Virginia history, with 2,331 animals harvested. Youth and apprentice hunters took 110 of those over their designated weekend in October.

    Despite the large harvest, this year’s number falls in line with recent figures. Each year’s harvest after 2008 has exceeded 200 bears, with the highest occurring in 2014, with 2,412 animals taken.

    It’s worthy of note that 2015-16 marked the first season in which a Virginia bear license was sold separately from the resident deer/turkey license. The Department’s bear management staff reports 30,780 resident bear licenses and 926 non-resident bear licenses being sold in its inaugural year, and can draw no conclusions on the effect the new regulation had on the season’s harvest numbers.

    More so, mast production influences harvest numbers, and 2015’s was spotty at best. This often leads to an increase in bears taken in the early season by bowhunters, when animals are more vulnerable to hunting efforts as they concentrate on limited, available food sources.

    Still, archers took an average proportion of the total harvest in 2015-16, accounting for 24 percent, while those hunting with firearms and muzzleloaders took a combined 71 percent. Sunday hunting continues to have a minimal effect on the outcome of the harvest, and only accounted for three percent of the total.


    Hunters took a total of 209,197 deer in Virginia during the 2015-16 season—16,901 up from last year’s figure. Antlered deer composed 103,310 of the total, while button bucks accounted for 15,000, and antlerless does, 90,887.

    This year’s youth came out with 3,076 harvests. Bowhunters claimed 15,078 (7 percent), crossbow hunters took 11,719 (6 percent), and muzzleloader hunters took 42,517 (20 percent) of the total.

    A stable or declining deer population has been expected over the past decade, though the majority of the yearly fluctuation in harvest numbers in that time—ranging from a low of 192,278 in 2014, to a high of 259,147 in 2009—has been attributed to variable mast productions and Hemorrhagic 
Disease flare-ups.

    In that time, too, the Department has made a conscious effort to increase the harvest of female deer throughout the state, namely on private land, as a measure for reducing and stabilizing the overall deer herd, as resolved by the current deer management plan.

    Thus, hunters should anticipate a declining statewide deer harvest in coming years.


    Commonwealth hunters bagged a total of 3,283 turkey during the 2015-16 fall turkey season, up somewhat significantly from 2,988 in 2014-15, suggesting a robust population.

    However, other factors skew the relationship between harvest and population size. Weather in late spring can influence successful reproduction rates, stealing poults in the case of cold, wet weather. The hatch rate fell just slightly below average (2.7 poults/hen) in the spring of 2015, at 2.5 poults/hen.

    Moreover, as is the case with the other big game species, acorn availability significantly impacts harvest numbers. Years blessed with an abundant mast spell hard times for hunters, as the turkey’s home range shrinks due to the concentration of resources in the woods. Years with poor mast, such as 2015, see turkey range wider, increasing their vulnerability to hunting efforts. Likewise, in years with poor mast, hunters often find increased success on private lands with more open field habitat, as birds range wider and resort to alternative food sources.

    Overall, the 2015-16 season reflects positivity for game populations, though hunters can expect to see fewer deer in coming years, in an effort to balance and stabilize the herd.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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