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Virginia posts highest recorded bear harvest to date

This fellow showed up on a property in Rappahannock County. Photo by Joy Lorien.
By the numbers
2014-15 Fall/Winter Virginia hunting season

Deer 244,440 harvested last year
Black 2,405 harvested Up 4 percent
2,312 harvested last year
Wild Tu2,988 harvested Down 44 percent
5,351 harvested last year

Richmond, VA – While Virginia deer and turkey harvests reflected a decline from last year, the black bear harvest reached record numbers. Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled the preliminary figures for the 2014-15 fall/winter hunting season. A bumper crop of acorns across the state coupled with management actions to meet population objectives and some higher than normal disease mortality all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends.

White-tailed Deer

During the past deer season 190,745 deer were reported killed by deer hunters in Virginia. This total included 88,148 antlered bucks, 14,592 button bucks, 87,937 does (46 percent) and 68 unclassified deer. The fall 2014 deer kill total was down 22 percent from the 244,440 deer reported killed last year. It is also 18 percent below the last 10 year average of 233,350.

The youth deer hunting day in September resulted in a deer kill of 1,890 deer. Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 15,178 deer. The bow kill comprised 8 percent of the total deer kill. Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 10,852 deer or 6 percent of the total deer kill. Muzzleloader hunters killed 48,282 deer or 25 percent of the total deer kill. Approximately 149,750 deer (79 percent) were checked using the Department’s telephone and Internet checking systems.

Total deer kill levels were down across all physiographic regions including Tidewater, Southern Piedmont, Northern Piedmont, Southern Mountains, and Northern Mountains. However deer kill declines were greater east of the Blue Ridge Mountains (down 24 percent) than west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (down 16 percent).

Declining deer kills in Virginia are not unexpected. The Department’s primary deer management effort over the past five to 10 years has been to increase the female deer kill over much of the state, especially on private lands, to meet the deer population objectives of stabilizing or reducing deer populations found in Virginia’s deer management plan.

However, the magnitude of the 2014 deer kill decline was greater than anticipated. There are several possible explanations. First and foremost are the liberal either-sex deer hunting regulations (doe days) the Department has had in place since 2008. These liberal regulations were expected to eventually result in a decline in the deer herd and the annual deer kill totals, even without the added impact from hemorrhagic disease (HD), which showed up in at least 28 counties in eastern Virginia this past fall prior to the opening of deer season. In the past, HD has caused 20-35 percent declines in the annual deer kill within counties in Virginia. Typically these HD-impacted deer herds recover after 2-3 years. In addition, acorns were plentiful during hunting season, reducing the need for deer to move long distances in search of food, making them less vulnerable to hunters. Without these other factors, liberal deer seasons would likely reduce the deer kill more gradually, over a number of years.

Data presented in this summary do not include deer taken during the late urban archery or special late antlerless-only deer seasons. Data also do not include deer killed on out-of-season kill permits or those deer hit and killed by vehicles.

Black Bear

A total of 2,405 bears were harvested in Virginia during the 2014-15 bear hunting seasons. Representing the combined kill from youth/apprentice, archery, muzzleloader, and firearms hunters, the 2014-15 harvest was a 4 percent increase over last year’s initial reported kill of 2,312 bears and is highest recorded bear harvest to date.

The youth/apprentice day resulted in the harvest of 109 bears which was only one less bear than was taken by youth/apprentice hunters in 2013. Similar to last season, the majority of bears harvested on the youth/apprentice day were west of the Blue Ridge (WBR), with more bears harvested by hound hunting youth and apprentice hunters (62) than still hunters (47).

Mast conditions greatly influence the distribution of harvest among hunting seasons. Years with poor mast production typically result in archery harvests that make up a greater proportion of the total harvest compared to years with good mast production. The fall of 2014 was one of the best years on record for mast production in Virginia compared to 2013, which was one of the worst years for fall mast production. Both the archery harvest (423) and muzzleloader harvest (370) decreased by 40 percent and 10 percent respectively while the firearms season harvest(1503) increased by approximately 40 percent over the 2013 harvest. Therefore, as expected, the early season archery harvest was a much smaller proportion of the total harvest than during the 2013 season and at approximately 18 percent of the total harvest, was well within the predicted range of total harvest composition. The average percent of bears killed during archery season in the poorest mast years is 32 percent of total harvest, while the average percent of bears killed during the archery season in better or good mast years is 19 percent.

The largest proportion of bears was taken by hound hunters (970 bears, 40 percent of the total harvest and 65 percent of the firearms harvest). The next highest proportion was harvested by non-hound hunters during the firearms season (533 bears, 22 percent of total harvest, 35 percent of the firearms harvest). Although bears were harvested in 76 counties/cities throughout Virginia, most of the harvest occurred WBR (68 percent). Almost 64 percent of the archery harvest and 63 percent of the muzzleloader harvest were also WBR. Additionally, the great majority of the hound harvest was WBR (77 percent), while the firearms hunters that did not use dogs had the lowest proportion of bears harvested WBR (57 percent).The overall percent of females in the harvest was lower than previous years (38 percent) and unlike all other years, archery hunters harvested the lowest proportion of females.

The first year of Sunday hunting resulted in the harvest of 119 bears or about 5 percent of the total harvest, the majority of which were taken in the archery season (59), followed by muzzleloader (28) and firearms seasons (32). While Sunday impacts to the harvest were relatively small this year, one year of harvest is not representative of a trend or reflective of future impacts. The impacts of Sunday hunting on the bear harvest will be monitored closely in order to determine impacts to bear populations resulting from these added hunting opportunities.

Due to its efficacy, tradition, effectiveness, and recreational value, regulated hunting is the primary bear population management option in Virginia. Bear harvest seasons and regulations are structured to meet the goals and objectives in the Black Bear Management Plan. The Black Bear Management Plan provides guidance on appropriate strategies to manage bear populations based on cultural carrying capacity objectives, viability status, and current population trends.

Fall Wild Turkey

In Virginia, 2,988 turkeys were harvested during the 2014-15 fall turkey season. The 2014-15 season total was 44 percent below last year’s reported kill (5,351). The harvest decreased 36 percent in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains (WBR) (1,205 vs. 1,869). Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains (EBR) decreased 49 percent percent (1,783 vs. 3,482). EBR hunters harvested 11 birds per 100 square miles of forest range. That rate was nearly identical to counties WBR where 13 birds were killed per 100 square miles of forest range. Botetourt and Pittsylvania led all counties with a harvest of 85 birds each. Most (91 percent) of the harvest was reported on private lands. Approximately 6 percent of the harvest was on federal lands. A 35 percent decline was seen in both the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Twenty-nine birds were harvested on the Youth Fall Turkey Hunt Day, which is lower than last year (50).

The 2014-15 season was the first year hunters could hunt turkeys (and other game) on Sundays. Interest in Sunday hunting appeared light as only 5 percent of the harvest was reported on Sundays during the firearms seasons. In contrast, 27 percent of the harvest was reported on Saturdays in the firearms seasons.

The 2014-15 fall season was the fourth year where two-weeks of turkey hunting was provided in January. The harvest during the January season was 179 birds, down from 265 birds during the 2013-14 season. Although the harvest was light, many enjoy hunting with less competition and oftentimes have the opportunity to track birds in the snow.

Twelve percent of the state harvest (358) was taken on Thanksgiving Day. Most turkeys were harvested during the second week of the firearm season; 18 percent in counties EBR and 25 percent in counties WBR.

In counties WBR, the harvest was nearly evenly split among rifle hunters (34 percent), shotgun hunters (28 percent), and muzzleloader hunters (25 percent). Archers and pistol hunters make up the balance. In contrast, turkey harvested EBR were taken by shotgun hunters (48 percent) followed by rifle (25 percent) and muzzleloader hunters (19 percent). A number of counties in eastern Virginia restrict use of rifles for hunting which is likely the reason a higher percentage of the EBR birds are taken by shotgun hunters. More hunters chose to check their bird using the Department’s telephone and internet checking systems (86 percent) compared to checking their bird at a Game Check Station (14 percent).

Gary Norman, Wild Turkey Project Leader, indicated a decline in the harvest was expected because mast crops were generally above average across the state. Good mast crops depress harvest rates as turkeys move less to find food and typically spend most of their time in forested areas, using smaller home ranges and remaining out of view. In years with poor mast conditions, like last year, birds travel longer distances and routinely spend time in fields and clearings, in view of the public which typically results in higher hunter success rates. The magnitude of change between years is significant and the wide contrast in mast crops between years is believed to be the primary cause. Despite the low fall harvest, we believe turkey populations are in good condition as cooperators in our August Brood Survey reported seeing near record numbers of broods and total numbers of turkeys. The widespread availability of acorns, the turkey’s favorite food, simply made for tough hunting conditions as birds were hard to locate.

Hunting and trapping regulations to be amended
Public input encouraged

The VDGIF is offering the public an opportunity to comment on board proposed regulation amendments for hunting and trapping regulations to be in effect for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons.
The comment period will begin April 8 and close May 22, 2015. Please check the VDGIF website for more information during those dates.

Virginia’s Black Bear Management Plan can be viewed at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/blackbearmanagementplan.pdf
Information about black bears in Virginia can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/

Virginia’s White-tailed Deer Management Plan can be viewed at
www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/management-plan/
Information about white-tailed deer in Virginia can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/

Virginia’s Wild Turkey Management Plan can be found at
http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/management-plan/
Information about wild turkeys in Virginia can be found at
http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/








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