2018 Virginia Deer Harvest

Va ethan drop club 6

In my home state of Virginia last season, hunters harvested 190,636 deer, including 96,239 antlered bucks, 12,342 button bucks, and 82,055 does.

Bowhunters killed 26,676 of those deer. For the first time since crossbows became legal for all archery hunters in fall 2005, the number of whitetails taken with crossbows exceeded the number taken with vertical bows.

Blackpowder hunters shot 43,749 deer during the popular November muzzleloader season. Firearms hunters (rifles and shotguns) killed 120,074 deer, or 63% of the total.

Approximately 161,800 deer (85%) were checked using the Department’s electronic telephone and Go Outdoors Virginia online checking portal.

Virginia Deer Project Coordinator Matt Knox expected the fall 2018 harvest total to be down for 2 reasons. First, much of the Commonwealth experienced heavy rain and/or high winds on several of the big deer hunting weekends.

Second, the continued steady decline in the number of licensed deer hunters in Virginia inevitably results in fewer animals being harvested. In a worrisome trend, Virginia has lost one-third of its deer hunters (300,000 down to 200,000) in the last 25 years.

As is the case in all states, a portion of this decline can be related to the “baby boomers” get older and retiring from hunting.

Hunt Tactics for Winter Bucks

iowa lyla 2We have 2 more days to hunt deer this season in Virginia…if you’re still hunting too, try these tips.

Afternoons are always best in late season. Deer move straight from their beds to a cornfield or beans or a thicket or a pasture with weeds–anywhere they can find last scraps of food. When you hunt  a food source, the wind can’t blow back toward a bedding cover or travel lane out, and it can’t swirl out into a field where the does will pop out first. Set up downwind of a trail or funnel where your scent will blow back into a dead zone in the timber where no deer will hopefully come out. If just one doe winds you and starts blowing, you won’t see a buck that night.

Go for perfect access. With deer stressed and wired in winter, access to your stand is critical. Try to slip into and out of a spot without a single deer seeing you. If you can’t use something like a ditch or creek bank to cover your moves, don’t risk it. If you bump one doe you’ll spook a bunch of deer. They’ll blow out of the area and they’ll probably change their pattern. Sneak to your stand early in the afternoon—at least 3 hours before dark—so no deer will spot you.

Watch hidden fringes, like the edges of pine, cedar or honeysuckle thickets. Bucks love to run those green edges between bedding and feeding areas, moving in little places where they can browse and feel some security,.

Play off the pressure. The last couple days of the season, you might hear people making a last-ditch drive on an adjacent farm or woods. If so, hike up a ridge or hill and watch thickets on your side of the fence (stay inside your property and be extra careful where you aim and shoot). There is good chance some does and maybe a buck spooked by those other hunters might jump the fence and come flagging your way.

Imagine the look on those guys’ faces when your gun cracks and you score a buck at the buzzer!

 

November Rut-Hunting Plan

sioux falls south dakota buckThe main thing to remember for the next two weeks is that many if not most bucks will cover two or three times the terrain they traveled back in September and early October, circling and contacting as many doe units as they can, hoping to get lucky with as many does as they can. As the bucks come and go, they might not stay on your hunting property every day, but they’ll drift through from time to time, though you cannot predict when.

Right now, as bucks begin to lengthen their daily movements and roam more in daylight hours, expand your hunt area, too, if you can. Spread out, scout and hang some more tree stands in likely ambush spots with fresh sign back in the woods, on ridges and in creek bottoms. Then sit in those stands every day that you can through the middle of November. You’ll see deer on the move, including quite possibly some bucks you’ve never seen before or taken pictures of.

Hunt as many hours as you can hack it in a tree stand on each sit. You never know what time of day a shooter will show. It couldn’t hurt to lay a doe scent trail into your post each morning or afternoon; a buck moving on a long, linear travel pattern might cut it and come to investigate.

Grunt and/or rattle periodically in hopes of contacting one of those vagabond bucks and reeling him your way. Good luck and send me pictures.

Q&A: 6 Tips For Whitetail Rut

big rubs

How do I locate and hunt a dominant buck in my area?—Buford

Look for rubs 3-5 inches in diameter (or larger). Clusters of big rubs are sign a big buck is working the area. Hang trail cams over fresh scrapes near the rubs to get a snap-shot of the dominant buck, probably working it at night. If and when you catch the buck on his feet in daylight, move in and hunt him!

Where would you spend the most time hunting in the rut—around feeding or bedding areas, on main trails or in funnels?—Steve A.

My #1 Rut Spot: Set up on the downwind side of the intersection of two trails with fresh tracks and rimmed with rubs and scrapes. The thicker and more remote the spot, the better. A big deer might prowl by any time of day in the rut.

Is there a primary rut and then a second rut?–Judy

Yes, adult does not bred or impregnated during peak rut in November will cycle back into estrous 28 days later, leading to a second rut in December. Rut activity can be good but spotty then…the second rut is more unpredictable and rarely as intense as the first.

Why do bucks where I hunt always seem to run off when I rattle?  But grunting works great.—Bob

I have found that bucks simply respond better to rattling in some regions than others. Or you might be rattling too early in October, when it can spook deer. Try it from Halloween through November 15, when bucks are wild and apt to respond. Grunting is a far less aggressive tactic that works well anywhere all season.

spartan buck scrape

I’ve tried everything, but I have no luck hunting scrapes. Got any tips? George

Walk right by any scrapes you find on field edges and in open woods. Hang tree stands to watch fresh scrapes in thick cover back in the woods. You’ll at least have a shot of spotting a buck on his feet in daylight hours.

Which is better, hot-doe or buck urine? Bob

From Halloween through November 10 or so, try buck urine/tarsal to attract a buck to the stink of a rival buck (you). In peak rut and into December, lay scent trails and hang wicks doused with doe-in-heat. 

scent over scrape

 

How to Bowhunt City Bucks

MT kevin robinsn bucks

People are shooting huge whitetail bucks in small tracts in cities and suburbs where bowhunting is permitted. In Connecticut, northern Virginia, New York—and out in Missoula, Montana.

Last week I filmed a TV segment with Kevin Robinson; the heavy 8-point rack with killer brow tines is from his 2016 Montana suburbs buck. Kevin will tell his story on an episode of BIG DEER TV later this fall, but here are a few of tricks.

When archery season opens in early September, Kevin hunts high in a draw that overlooks town in the evenings. His tree stand is tight to one of two deer trails that run up and down the mountain. He knows these suburban bucks, and if a big deer has not passed his stand by a certain time in the evening, he knows he is not coming on the first trail, but should be walking the second trail. So he gets down, gets the wind and thermals right and sneaks over to one of three ground spots to watch the second trail. That’s how he got the three-beamed buck on the left side of the photo.

Kevin said, “It’s all about scouting and watching early-season deer on their tight and predictable summer pattern.”

MT film kevin

He hunts fairly hard in September, but when October and the “lull” roll around he stops hunting and leaves the local deer alone until later in November. “Not hunting for 4 or 5 weeks, that’s hard to do, but I know how good the hunting will be as the rut comes on,” Kevin says.

In November he typically hunts from a tree stand set lower in the draw and much nearer houses, roads and developments. “Local town bucks that I hardly ever see up high start moving around and looking for does, and the action really gets good.”

For city bucks, Kevin says grunting works well, and a drag line with doe scent can be good in the rut.