posted on March 20, 2011 19:08
During the past deer season 219,797 deer were reported killed by hunters in Virginia. This total included 95,543 antlered bucks, 19,191 button bucks, and 105,063 does (47.8%). The fall 2010 deer kill total was 15% lower than the 259,147 deer reported killed last year. It is 3% lower than the last 10 year average of 227,430.
Exceptional acorn crops across the state coupled with other environmental conditions both this year and last as well as management actions to meet population objectives all factored into fluctuations in populations and harvest trends.
Deer kill levels were down across all of Virginia and showed a significant declining trend from east to west. In Tidewater, the deer kill was down 3%, and the Southern Piedmont and Northern Piedmont were down 14% and 19% respectively. The largest declines were seen west of the Blue Ridge where Southern Mountain and Northern Mountain deer kill totals were down 28% and 20% respectively. The combined West of the Blue Ridge deer kill total was down 24% and represents the lowest total deer kill in this area in over 20 years.
Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 15,579 deer. The bow kill comprised 7% of the total deer kill. The 2010 archery deer kill was down 10% from 2009.
Crossbows resulted in a deer kill of 8,606 deer or 4% of the total deer kill. The 2010 crossbow deer kill was down 10% from 2009.
Muzzleloader hunters killed 53,048 deer. Muzzleloading comprised 24% of the total deer kill. The muzzleloader deer kill was also down 5% from 2009.
On a side note, more than 150,000 deer (68%) were checked using VDGIF's telephone and Internet checking systems.
A decline in the total deer kill was predicted for fall 2010 based on two factors. First, the Department deer management efforts over the past five to ten years to increase the female deer kill over most of the state, especially on private lands, have been very successful. Nearly all of the increase in the deer kill over the past couple of years has been due to an increased kill of antlerless deer. These high and sustained female deer kill levels were intended to eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and a decline in total deer kill numbers.
The second factor was the winter of 2010 which may also have resulted in some winter mortality. After a poor mast crop in fall 2009 and more than a decade of very little snow fall, winter of 2010 saw much of the western half of Virginia covered in snow for up to two months. Snow in Virginia is not unusual, but snow that stays up to one foot deep on the ground for nearly two consecutive months is very unusual.
Winter starvation of deer in Virginia is uncommon. In winter 1993, following a near total mast failure in fall 1992 and a very big winter storm in mid-March, there was a winter starvation/mortality event in the Alleghany Highlands Region of Virginia. During that starvation event, the deer were literally eating the bark off trees. In winter 2010, staff documented deer again eating the bark off of trees in Bath County.
At some point during winter, because of the cold weather and snow, most deer will begin to burn more calories than they are taking in and begin to operate at an energy deficit. They will begin burning their fat reserves. It is not unusual for deer to lose a significant amount of their body weight during winter. To minimize weight loss and save energy, a deer's metabolism actually slows down in winter. However, if they come into winter in poor condition and the winter is long and hard with deep snow, then starvation from malnutrition is a very real possibility.
In this winter race for survival, fawns are at a real disadvantage. In the fall, when adults are building up their fat reserves, fawns are storing fat but are also still growing. When deer die from winter malnutrition, a majority of the deer that die will be fawns.
Also, snow makes deer more vulnerable to predation. Crusted snow conditions allow small, light, soft-footed predators like coyotes to run across the top of the crusted snow, while the heavier bounding deer breaks through. Under these conditions even healthy deer can be very susceptible to predation. This crusted snow condition that favors predators was fairly common in western Virginia during winter 2010.
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.