• Virginia Dept of Game & Inland Fisheries

Virginia Releases 2017-2018 Bear, Deer, Turkey Kill Data - Record Bear Take

Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for the 2017-18 fall/winter hunting season. The Virginia bear and deer harvests reflected an increase from last year and the black bear kill was the highest ever recorded in Virginia.

During the 2017-18 Virginia bear hunting seasons, 2,861 bears were killed by 32,687 licensed bear hunters. With 1,474 bears taken, the regular firearms season accounted for most of the harvest, with hound hunters making up the majority (72%) of the total. The archery, muzzleloader, and 3-day early firearms seasons resulted in the killing of 497, 395 and 395 bears, respectively. Another 100 bears were taken during the youth and apprentice bear hunting weekend on October 14-15 (91% by hound hunters). Nonresidents throughout the United States purchased 1,155 bear licenses. Successful out-of-state bear hunters came from 33 different states.

The 2017-18 bear harvest was 17% higher than the highest previous year observed in Virginia during the 2016-17 hunting seasons. The new 3-day early firearms season occurring during the week prior to the archery season, added to bear hunting mortality and contributed to an increase in the overall statewide bear harvest. Also as anticipated, the percent female composition of the early-season bear harvest (48%) was higher than during the remaining bear hunting seasons, except for the youth/apprentice weekend. Because a number of factors influence the annual bear harvest (including hunter participation and success, environmental factors, and mast production), it will take several years to determine the ultimate population impact of the additional 3-day early firearms season.

Nearly 900 more bear licenses were sold in 2017 than 2016. For more details on black bear management in Virginia, read the 2012-2021 Black Bear Management Plan (www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/). Data presented in this summary are preliminary and only include bears harvested in the regulated bear hunting seasons.

Virginia Deer Harvest Summary

During the 2017-18 deer hunting season, hunters killed 189,730 deer in Virginia. This included 95,474 antlered bucks, 12,822 button bucks, and 81,434 does (43%).

The youth/apprentice deer hunting weekend resulted in 2,954 deer. The archery season take was 27,630 deer while hunters took 48,811 deer during muzzleloader season. Firearms deer season (rifles and shotguns) resulted in a deer harvest of 113,169 deer or 60% of the total. Deer hunting with dogs accounted for approximately 54% of the total firearms deer harvest in the 59 eastern counties where deer-dog hunting is legal. In areas where hunting deer with dogs is legal, the percentage of deer harvested using dogs ranged from just a few percent in northern Virginia to nearly 90% on the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and Virginia’s southeastern counties. Approximately 157,500 deer (83%) were checked using the Department’s electronic telephone and online checking through the Go Outdoors Virginia portal.

According to Deer Project Coordinator Matt Knox, the stable or declining deer harvest trends experienced in most Virginia counties over the past decade were expected. Knox noted the department’s primary deer management effort over the past decade had been to increase the female deer harvest over much of the state, especially on private lands in eastern Virginia, to meet objectives of stabilizing or reducing deer populations. Annual deer kill totals by county dating back to 1947 can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/harvest.

Data presented here are preliminary and don't include deer taken during the late urban archery or special late antlerless-only deer seasons. Also omitted are deer taken on out-of-season kill permits or deer killed by vehicles. People interested in more information on Virginia’s deer management program can find the Department’s deer management plan at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/management-plan.

Virginia Wild Turkey Fall Summary

A total of 2,132 wild turkeys were killed in Virginia during the 2017-18 fall turkey hunting season, a 24% decline compared to the 2016-17 fall seasons and 31% below the recent 5-year average. The decline was nearly identical in counties east (-24%) and west (-25%) of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

While Virginia’s turkey population is close to record levels for modern times, fall harvests fluctuate due to a number of other factors in addition to population size. These include annual variation in turkey productivity, mast conditions, hunting pressure and weather. Turkey productivity, or “the hatch”, can vary widely due to weather conditions in May and June. In 2017, productivity (2.3 poults/hen) was below our long-term average (2.5 poults/hen) and equaled the lowest previous production estimate from 2009.

Acorn abundance, which varies by year and region, significantly affects fall turkey hunter success rates. When food is readily available, wild turkey home ranges are small which makes them harder for hunters to find. On the other hand, during years of acorn scarcity, turkeys must range further to find food and hunter success rates increase. The largest decreases in harvest (31%) came from the northern parts of the state where acorn production was generally better than in southern areas. The turkey kill was relatively stable (only down 8%) in counties near the North Carolina border.

Gary Norman, Virginia's Wild Turkey Project Leader, said that he anticipated a decline in the fall 2017-18 harvest based on the very poor reproduction and spotty mast crops, but perhaps not as high as the 24% decline that was observed. He said, “Despite efforts to promote interest in fall turkey hunting, the long-term decline of fall turkey hunters and turkey hunting effort may be having the biggest influence on total fall harvest. Other states have seen similar decreases in fall turkey hunting interest by sportsmen.” One goal in the DGIF Wild Turkey Management Plan is to reverse the general decline in fall turkey hunting interest. The October youth/apprentice fall turkey hunting weekend and the late January fall season were designed to encourage interest in fall turkey hunting. Additional surveys of hunters will be necessary to fully understand how these opportunities may have enhanced participation in fall turkey hunting.

For more information on wild turkey population goals visit the Department’s Turkey Management Plan visit: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/management-plan.

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