2017-18 Virginia Deer Harvest

va 2017 tyler 1.jpg compressDuring the 2017–18 season, hunters harvested 189,730 deer in Virginia. This total included 95,474 antlered bucks, 12,822 button bucks, and 81,434 does (43% of the total harvest).

Archery hunters killed 27,630 deer…muzzleloader hunters shot 48,811 animals…and firearms hunters (rifles and shotguns) shot 113,169 deer, or 60% of the total.

Deer hunting with dogs accounted for approximately 54% of the total firearms deer harvest in the 59 eastern counties where deer-dog hunting is legal.

Approximately 157,500 deer (83%) 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 doe 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.

Bigger Bucks: 5 Food-Plot Pointers

plant plot

One: Design Before You Dig

On an aerial map, look for strips and pockets of open ground toward the interior of your property, and plant those first. This keeps your plots—and the bucks they attract–away from roads and the neighbors’ fence lines.

Also, the closer you plant to thick bedding cover the better your chances that mature 8- or 10-pointer will pop out into the plot to grab a bite one evening this fall.

Think back to past hunts on the land. Whitetails are habitual animals that come and go in the same places from year to year. Where have you seen the most deer and found the found the most trails, rubs and scrapes over the years? Plant your plots in and around areas of established deer traffic.

Two: GPS Your Plots

“Use a GPS receiver to measure the exact area of every food plot,” says Bill Gray, an Alabama wildlife biologist.  “Knowing the precise acreage of your plots will prevent over applying seed, fertilizer, lime and herbicide. Better crops are always produced when the correct amount of seed, fertilizer and lime are applied.”

Three: Plant North to South

“Configure plots to run more north-south than east-west,” says Dr. Grant Woods, one of the top deer managers in the world. “Growing plants will get adequate sunlight each day, but they won’t bake in the summer.  The northeast corner of a slope generally has the moistest soil and is a particularly good spot for a plot.”

Four: Get A Top Soil Sample

Dig 5 or 6 six cups of dirt from various spots around a plot area, mix the soil in a bucket and come up with one representative soil sample. Have it tested at your county extension office or by a seed company for recommendations on liming and fertilizing. Bonus tip: Ideally your dirt would have a pH level of seven, or neutral. But usually it’ll test 4 to 6. Keep in mind that it takes a ton of lime per acre to raise the pH one point, and it takes lime months to work most efficiently. Plan well ahead of time.

Five: Plant Clover

You have a bunch of seed choices, but you can’t go wrong by planting a 60/40 mix of a perennial like Imperial Whitetail Clover and chicory in spring. By mid-May the clover is producing major tonnage, and the chicory kicks in soon thereafter to provide a steady food source for lactating does and bucks putting on new antlers.

The great news is that the clover will last 5 years, and the chicory about 3 years, so this minimizes your work and cost big time.

Deer Management How-To: Build A Mineral Site

30 06 minerals

Now is time to build new mineral sites (or start recharging old ones) on your hunting land.

“Licks” are easy and relatively inexpensive to build and maintain, and they serve 2 purposes: 1) provide trace minerals and vitamins for all deer, from bucks growing new antlers to does getting ready to drop fawns; and 2) they are top spots for you set trail cameras and monitor growing antlers all summer as you prepare your 2018 game plan.

Scientists note that whitetails use mineral sites most heavily from late summer until the first frost next fall. From personal experience and observation here in Virginia, bucks start hitting minerals whenever we set them out in early spring through the first 2 weeks of August, when our camera images of mature bucks at licks begin to taper off.

How many mineral sites do you need? Research shows that one site for every 50 to 100 acres of hunting land is about right. We maintain 8 to 10 licks an 800-acre Virginia farm every year.

Locate mineral sites strategically across your property. Twenty to 30 yards back in the woods from the corners and edges of crop fields and food plots are good spots. Most of our licks are located close to main deer trails, where bucks can veer over to check them with minimal effort. Two of our best sites are near creek crossings back in the woods.

To build a site, clear a spot 4 to 6 feet in diameter (or larger if you like) and rake away the leaves and grass down to bare soil. It helps to break up and loosen the dirt with a shovel.

There are dozens of minerals formulated to attract deer and to provide vitamins for better deer health. We began using Imperial Whitetail .30-06 from Whitetail Institute last year with great success, and now use them exclusively.

imperial minerals

Dump and scatter minerals into a lick. Whitetail Institute recommends you use at least 5 pounds in a new site.

We use 10 pounds to an entire 20-pound bag the first time we re-start an established mineral site in the spring, and then use half a bag in each lick after that.  We refresh our sites every 3 weeks to a month throughout the summer.

Look for a good tree for a trail camera within 10 feet or so of every mineral site you create. Start running your cameras in June and watch the bucks’ antlers grow. By August you’ll have thousands of images of deer at licks, and a good inventory of the size and age class of bucks on your land.

Side note: It’s fun to watch how the most active mineral sites grow. As deer dig for minerals in the same sites year after year, the holes get bigger and deeper. I’ve seen licks deep enough to hide half a buck!

I end with this important note. Here in Virginia, using minerals is legal during spring and summer, but not permitted from September 1 through the end of hunting season. State laws vary, so check your game regulations.

Why Are Fewer People Hunting in 2018?

ny adirondacks rob buckA survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals that only 5% of Americans age 16 and up hunt. That’s half of what it was 50 years ago.

The number of licensed hunters, most of them deer hunters, dropped from 14.2 million in 1991 to 11.5 million in 2016. Most disturbing, the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decades.

Why fewer of us? I have my suspicions and government agencies and wildlife organizations have their theories, but I wanted information from real-life hard-core hunters, so I did a little Twitter/social survey. It’s far from scientific, but pretty darn representative I believe.

Loss of Access

By far the number one reason fewer people are hunting, especially east of the Mississippi, is loss of access to private land. This is not surprising, and it’s something I have known for years, but we have seemingly reached a tipping point. After years fighting it, trying to hold on to one or two spots they have hunted for years, people get frustrated and fatigued. Another 200 acres or so a guy has hunted for 20 or 30 years gets bought and posted and he says, “That’s it, I’m out.”

The repercussions? Not only do our numbers drop another tick, this guy’s kids don’t get the chance to hunt, and their kids don’t… You get the point.

Many landowners are posting their private properties, closing them to hunting probably forever. Others are leasing farms and woodlands to deer hunters and clubs, often at exorbitant fees depending on the rack genetics of a region. Many private lands continue to be developed, with houses springing up on hallowed ground where you and I shot deer for years.

My survey revealed that leasing land remains a hot topic, with strong feelings on both sides. One person in the Midwest wrote: “In my area almost all the private ground is now leased…people are paying big money, and I can’t afford that. So eventually I’ll have to quit…and dammit my kids and grand kids can’t hunt.”

Another hunter in Virginia posted: “My buddies and I lease land. We don’t like paying for it, but hell if we didn’t we wouldn’t have anywhere to hunt.”

Hunting Is Too Expensive

“Hunting has become a rich man’s sport.” I’ve heard people say this for years, but again we have seemed to reach a tipping point. Most deer hunters that responded to my survey, hard-working men and women, can’t afford lease fees or are not willing to pay up to hunt.

A number of people also mentioned that the cost of gear and tags have gone up so much so that they can’t or aren’t willing to pay for it. I get where they are coming from. But all things considered, if you still have a spot to hunt, hunting deer in your home state is still pretty cheap. As a rule, in-state licenses are reasonable. You can buy a fine new deer rifle package with a scope for $400 or less. The truth is, you can wear the same camo you have worn for 10 years, and in most cases use the same old gun and bow. So I urge you not to let cost impact your hunting.

America’s Changing Demographics & Culture

This is the most complex reason for the decline and the one that causes me the most worry. The vast majority of urban and suburban parents don’t hunt, and thus their kids will never have a chance. Rural parents, the ones that have driven the recruitment of young hunters for years, are super busy. And many of them have a different outlook on life and priorities than you or I or our fathers did, so their kids are never introduced to the woods.

As one guy wrote: “Many parents would rather pay $10,000 a year for their kids to play select sports than take them deer hunting these days.”

Most everybody rightly pointed to technology, electronics, video games, social media, Snap and the like. One person said: “When a kid becomes addicted to all this by the time he’s 4 or 5, he can’t imagine going out into the cold, wet woods when he’s 6 or 7 to sit still and wait for a deer.”

A few other notable comments from my survey:

One person wrote that baby boomers are aging and not hunting anymore. True, and there are facts to support this. Studies have shown that hunters are most active at 48 years old. Every few years after that, they hunt less and less…around 65 most people hang it up, either by choice or necessity.

One guy responded and said: “Part of the overall decline in hunters can be traced to the decline of America’s once rich traditional conservative values.” I’d say some truth in that.

Another person posted: “Some of my friends just say they have lost of the fire to hunt.” Disturbing, and if you dug deeper into their thinking I bet you’d find that they have lost all or most of their best places to hunt. They might have been forced to hunt a few years on public land where they didn’t have must success. All this douses that fire.

That guy, who still has the fire, went on to say:”Time to find some new friends!” LOL

Here’s the main reason all this matters. State wildlife agencies depend heavily on you, me and our brothers and sisters in arms for funding. Money generated from license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing equipment provide some 60% ($3.3 billion) of the annual funding for state fish and game agencies. As hunter numbers dwindle, so do dollars for conservation.

For more on the decline of hunters and the culture of hunting in America, this article is must read.  

So what do you think? Still got any good places to hunt? Still got the fire to shoot a deer?

I do.

What to Plant in Deer Food Plots

food plots for deer 005Time to start thinking about what to plant this spring:

If you live and hunt in the Northeast: Try planting a 60/40 mix of perennial clover (Imperial Whitetail Clover is my favorite) and chicory. Later in July or August, plant a couple of cool-season (fall) plots heavy with brassicas and the like.

If you live and hunt in the Mid-Atlantic: Trebark camo creator turned deer-management guru Jim Crumley plants good old ladino clover on his 300-acre property along the James River in Virginia. “It’s a low-maintenance, high-quality perennial (25% protein) that, once planted, will last for 5 years and can be easily over seeded,” he says.

If you hunt in the South: If you have the land, equipment and money plant corn and soybeans. After Labor Day, plant plots and strips with fall attractants like wheat, oats or clover.

If you live and hunt in the Midwest: Some of the best big-buck hunters I know in this region plant 2- to 4-acre fields of soybeans in May. From late August to mid-September, they come back and plant 20-yard strips and borders of oats around as many of the bean fields as they can. The green oats will attract deer during October, and the beans (20% to 25% protein) are the best food source for Midwestern deer from November to January.