A total of 2,132 wild turkeys were harvested in Virginia during the 2017–18 fall turkey hunting season, which was a 24 percent 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 percent) and west (-25 percent) of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While Virginia’s turkey population is close to record levels for modern times, fall harvests will fluctuate due to a number of other factors in addition to population size. These factors 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 in years with abundant acorns, 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 harvest was relatively stable (only down 8 percent) in counties near the North Carolina border.
Gary Norman, 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 went on to say that “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 of the goals of the DGIF Wild Turkey Management Plan is to reverse the general decline in fall turkey hunting interest. The October youth and apprentice fall turkey hunting weekend and the late January fall season were designed to encourage interest in fall turkey hunting.
During the 2017-18 Virginia bear hunting seasons, 2,861 bears were harvested by 32,687 licensed bear hunters. With 1,474 bears harvested, the regular firearms season accounted for most of the harvest, where hound hunters made up the majority (72 percent) of the firearms harvest. The archery, muzzleloader, and 3-day early firearms seasons resulted in the harvest 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). With nonresidents throughout the United States purchasing 1,155 licenses to hunt bears in Virginia, successful out-of-state bear hunters came from 33 different states.
The 2017-18 bear harvest was 17 percent higher than the highest previous year observed in Virginia during the 2016-17 hunting seasons.
Dr. Anderson noted that the increased bear harvest was anticipated given additional bear hunting opportunities designed to help address human-bear conflicts and bring about measured population reductions in areas primarily west of the Blue Ridge.
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, with the exception of 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.
Without a concurrent deer season, the early 3-day firearms bear season also encouraged additional opportunities for bear hunting recreation and interest by potentially new and non-traditional bear hunters. While many hound hunters took advantage of the early season, the success of non-hound hunters confirmed the expanded interest by all sportsmen and sportswomen in this unique bear hunting opportunity.
Hound hunters typically harvest the majority of bears during firearms seasons, but non-hound hunters made a welcome contribution to the harvest by actually taking the majority of bears (61%) during this early season. Also possibly due to the availability of the early season, another indication of an increased interest in bear hunting was the rise in bear hunting license sales with nearly 900 more bear licenses sold in 2017 than 2016.
Summing up the new early bear firearms season, DGIF Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki said, “One goal was to implement an inclusive season that would specifically generate interest in bear hunting by making it open to all types of hunting. Hunters were given the chance to focus on the unique values and special skills needed to pursue one of Virginia’s most prized game animals. The popularity of the season among hound and still hunters alike was proof that we accomplished this goal.”
During the 2017–18 deer hunting season, hunters harvested 189,730 deer in Virginia. This total included 95,474 antlered bucks, 12,822 button bucks, and 81,434 does (43 percent).
The youth and apprentice deer hunting weekend resulted in a harvest of 2,954 deer. The archery season harvest was 27,630 deer while hunters took 48,811 deer during the muzzleloader season. Firearms deer season (rifles and shotguns) resulted in a deer harvest of 113,169 deer or 60 percent of the total. Deer hunting with dogs accounted for approximately 54 percent 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 percent on the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and Virginia’s southeastern counties. Approximately 157,500 deer (83 percent) 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 further noted that 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 the deer population objectives of stabilizing or reducing deer populations found in the Department’s deer management plan.
Data presented in this summary are preliminary and do not include deer taken during the late urban archery or special late antlerless-only deer seasons. Data also do not include deer harvested on out-of-season kill permits or those deer hit and killed by vehicles.
–Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries