Hunters bag slim whitetail harvest on national forest

Posted: April 10, 2012

 Linville resident Danny Crawford hunted in the Hogpen area of the George Washington National Forest this past hunting season and saw only two deer.

Next year, he’ll be heading out of state to hunt, he said. “I’ve spent enough money here for the last two years without getting anything.”

Plenty of other locals spent fruitless mornings and evenings in the national forest this season. That’s apparent from preliminary harvest data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Even Virginia Deer Plan Coordinator Matt Knox, who leads a team of wildlife biologists, doesn’t sugarcoat what he sees.
“There is no good news on the national forest,” Knox said. “If there’s any good news, it’s possibly that it didn’t get any worse.”

According to the data, 9,379 deer were killed on private land in Augusta, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties, while 1,028 deer were harvested on public land.

“That only 60-some does were killed on 220 miles of national forest land [in Rockingham County] is probably the lowest doe kill in 20 to 30 years,” Knox said. “And Rockingham County is not alone. We’re seeing this in all the counties west of the Blue Ridge.”

That data continues a falling trajectory on public lands west of the Blue Ridge that began in the early 1990s, according to VDGIF data. Fall 2009 and fall 2010 were the worst years of the trend—primarily due to a poor forage crop in 2009 and a hard winter in 2010.

The statewide deer kill of 231,454 is in line with the last 10-year average of 230,850.

Herds in some areas of Virginia— for example, the eastern and Northern Neck areas— are flourishing, Knox says.

But a unique confluence of factors affects the GWNF whitetail herds. Knox has been discussing these factors in a lengthy four-part article currently running in “Virginia Whitetail Times,” the publication of the Virginia Deer Hunters Association. The title of the series is “What’s Wrong With the National Forest Deer Herd?”

The article outlines what Knox sees as important contributors: declining numbers of hunters, poor habitat, predation by coyotes and bear and liberal either-sex deer regulations on private land.

Controlling the burgeoning deer on private land has been a goal of the VDGIF’s Deer Management Plan for several years, Knox said.

Though he says the objective has been “successfully met,” it’s likely that herds in Rockingham County were affected by those regulations. Of the 139,904 acres of public land in the county, more than half of that acreage is located within a half mile of private land.

Knox says biologists will be looking at the possibility of further limiting doe days.

“We’ll go buck only if we have to,” he said. “We’ll do what we can with what we have control over, namely regulations.”

In response to concerns about the deer population, area hunters pushed for an antler point restriction in Rockingham County last season.

Anecdotal feedback on that has been positive, Knox said, adding that hunters in other counties west of the Blue Ridge, including Bath and Allegheny, are pushing for a similar restriction.

Crawford, the Linville hunter, says he’s pleased to hear that a VDGIF official is admitting that there is a problem on the national forest.

“At least they’re finally seeing that we’re telling the truth about what what’s going on out here,” he said.

But that won’t make a difference to him or he says, his friends and family members, most of whom plan on heading out of state to hunt next year.


Deer Kill on Private Lands 2011-12 Hunting Season

            Antlered Male     Male Fawn       Females      % Female           Unknown                  Total

Augusta         1,564         201                 1,290            42.2 %                 1                           3,056

Rockingham   1,547         163                  1,186           40.9 %                 1                          2,897

Shenandoah   1,232         212                 1,975            57.6 %                 2                           3,426


Deer Kill on Public Lands 2011-12 Hunting Season

                         Antlered Male     Male Fawn      Females      % Female      Unknown          Total

Augusta                         405         14                    64              13.3 %          0                       483

Rockingham                   282          11                   61              17.2 %         0                       354

Shenandoah                   156          7                     28               14.7 %        0                       191


Deer Kill Totals 2007-11        2007            2008            2009              2010                   2011

West of the BR                         77,916          79,080          77,232           58,661               63,675

East of the BR                          164,876         177, 302       181,915         163,413             167,779





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