Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Virginia deer hunting numbers tail off

Mark Taylor Mark Taylor is outdoors editor at The Roanoke Times.

mark.taylor
@roanoke.com

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Mark Taylor

Outdoors coverage

The Wild Life blog

Virginia deer hunters who felt that they had it a little tougher than usual this past season had good instincts.

According to preliminary figures released Friday by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the statewide deer kill was down 8 percent this past season from the 2011 totals.

Hunters recorded killing 213,597 whitetails, a drop from the 233,104 reported the previous season.

Bear and turkey kill numbers were both up from the previous season.

The turkey kill came in at 4,432, an increase of 28 percent over the 3,470 birds reported in 2011, and the highest fall turkey tally in the past five years.

Bear hunters tagged 2,144 animals, a modest increase of 7 percent.

The deer figures varied widely by region.

The kill was down just 3 percent in the DGIF-designated Southern Mountain Region, an area that encompasses much of the area surrounding Roanoke. That kind of decline is barely enough to notice.

The kill was flat in the Northern Mountains.

Other regions had it tougher.

The biggest drop was a 15 percent decline in the Tidewater Region. The Southern Piedmont was down 8 percent and the Northern Piedmont was down 9 percent.

There are explanations for the relatively significant difference between the mountain regions and the central and eastern parts of the state.

A drop in the kill of female deer was the major factor in the overall decline.

The statewide doe kill was down 13 percent, while hunters tagged just 2 percent fewer bucks.

As deer populations have become more stable in mountainous counties, the DGIF has in recent years reduced pressure on female deer in many counties by reducing either-sex hunting days.

Those hunting restrictions can account somewhat for the decline in the doe kill.

Doe-hunting regulations have remained liberal east of the Blue Ridge Range, however. That the doe kill is dropping gives an indication that overall deer population is declining in that area, which has been the DGIF's objective.

Buck kills did decline significantly in several counties, including a couple in this region.

The buck kill was down 26 percent in both Henry and Patrick County.

DGIF officials reported that there had significant hemorrhagic disease outbreaks in most of those counties, and it's thought that HD likely killed off many deer before the season started.

The general firearms season remains the single busiest hunting season, accounting for about 62 percent of the total hunter take.

The muzzleloader kill this past season was 54,808, or 24 percent of the total.

As they almost always do, the state's bowhunters accounted for 7 percent of the total, tagging 15,791 deer.

Crossbow hunters killed 10,596 percent, which was 5 percent of the total.

As usual, the top county was Bedford. The kill in the county was 7,655, a modest decline of 4 percent from the previous year.

The bear kill was spread out among bowhunters, muzzleloader hunters, rifle hunters and houndsmen.

The archery kill was 513, a decline of 24 percent from the previous season.

State biologists said the generally strong mast crop likely contributed to the drop in the archery kill. Heavy mast can make it more difficult for bowhunters to pinpoint food sources on which to focus their hunting efforts.

The muzzleloader kill was 415, or 19 percent of the total. That's the highest proportion recorded since the implementation of the special muzzleloader season for bear.

Of the 1,216 bears killed during the firearms season, hound hunters accounted for 59 percent of them.

The top three counties for hound hunters were Rockingham (60 bears), Craig (55) and Nelson (44).

Among turkey hunters, those in counties west of the Blue Ridge enjoyed a 37 percent increase in the kill, with those counties accounting for 1,734 birds.

The kill in eastern counties was up 21 percent.

Bedford was the top turkey county in the state, producing 151 birds.

The DGIF collects kill data not just to keep hunters informed of trends, but to help manage wildlife populations.

DGIF biologists are currently formulating proposed changes to hunting regulations, with any changes to be implemented prior to next fall's seasons.

Notable drops in kill numbers, which can indicate declining populations, can sometimes prompt proposals designed to reduce hunting pressure, such as reductions in doe-hunting days.

On the other hand, increasing kill numbers can lead to even more liberal regulations.

Because there can be so many factors affecting kill figures from season to season, the DGIF typically looks at long-term trends when considering potential changes.

Based on the trend data from the past five seasons, don't look for the DGIF to pursue significant liberalization of hunting opportunities for any of its big game species.

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