THE FALL 2021 Virginia deer kill, as of Tuesday, is down 7 percent, or about 7,700 animals from the same time last year, according to statistics provided by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Here’s a by-the-numbers breakout of how things are looking.
The early youth and apprentice deer hunting weekend saw 3,147 deer checked in. That’s only 13 fewer than the 3,160 taken in 2020.
Where things fell off dramatically was the opening weekend of archery season when 2,805 deer were checked, off 37 percent from 2020. Harvest rates caught up somewhat over the course of the October bow season. The October archery deer kill was 17,209, down 13 percent from the prior year.
The slim bowhunting success numbers reflect anecdotal hunter experiences both Matt Knox, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources deer project coordinator, and I were hearing.
This year’s hard mast crop, at least in some counties, was bountiful. All acorns are not created equal. Deer readily bypass acorns from red and chestnut oaks to find the sweetest white oak acorns on the ground. Some bowhunters in the greater Fredericksburg region noted that stand placement had to be precise as deer were feeding at favored oak trees.
“Deer don’t have to move much when there’s a good mast crop,” Knox said.
The opening weekend of muzzleloader season also saw a significant decline in deer harvest with 8,349 reported compared to 11,466 in 2020—a 27 percent drop.
Hunting success picked up as the two-week early muzzleloader season week rolled on, eventually finishing 17 percent down from 2020 during the first week and 13 percent the second week. That is not surprising. Pre-rut chasing of does by bucks increased as temperatures finally dipped.
I took the only deer I’ve squeezed a trigger on during muzzleloader’s second weekend. We had a thick frost and a buck cruising for does at 8 a.m. readily came to my grunt call. It was a 60-yard chip shot with the CVA Accura gun.
Overall, the muzzleloader kill was off 5 percent.
The opening weekend of general firearms season saw hunters take 15,329 deer, down 11 percent from 2020. The numbers were only off by 1 percent the rest of the week.
So, what does this mean heading toward the final stages of the season?
“It’ll be interesting to see where we finish up,” Knox said. “Deer season is like a NASCAR race—it isn’t over until it’s over. We’ve got a lot of season left, including the upcoming weekend. Thanksgiving weekend is one of the biggest deer-hunting weekends all year.”
Bob Duncan, retired executive director of Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, received the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ C.W. Watson Award at their recent annual meeting in Roanoke.
The award is the association’s highest honor and is presented in conjunction with the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society and the Southeastern Section of The Wildlife Society. It is presented to the career individual who, in the opinion of the Award Committee, made the greatest contribution to wildlife or fish conservation during the previous year or years.
Duncan retired in 2019 after 41 years of service, the last 11 as executive director. He was chief of the Wildlife Division for 18 years prior.
Duncan held past leadership roles in several professional organizations, including SEAFWA president, Southeastern Section of The Wildlife Society president, and Southeastern Representative to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Executive Board.
Happy Thanksgiving 2021. I pray it’s a happier one than last year when worries over COVID-19 kept many families and friends apart. If you’re a hunter, I hope a magnificent wild turkey graces your holiday table. For many of us, federal definitions aside, we tend to align more with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin’s thinking in terms of what should be and really is our “national bird.”
The buildup to Thanksgiving always summons sweet nostalgia, carrying my thoughts back to days when life’s pace was infinitely slower, when family connections seemed more important, and this holiday gathering was something no one dared (or wanted) to miss.
Many of my early Thanksgivings were at my grandparents’ homes on West Allen Street in Winooski, Vt., where I grew up before leaving for military service, infrequently returning for holidays.
I recall the first house having a dirt floor in both the garage and basement. Gardening implements and an array of gadgets hung on the walls. The basement lighting was a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The second house was a “manufactured home,” the kind that came in two sections and was bolted together on the foundation.
The small backyard always had a nice garden. My grandfather had a green thumb. A large berm with railroad tracks separated the property from the other section of town known as “The Flats.” I’d listen for the train, knowing the man in the caboose always gave a wave to this little kid in the backyard. Maybe he looked forward to it as much as I.
A return for Thanksgiving meant an opportunity to also break out my dad’s old .303 British for a day or two of usually unproductive deer hunting. A return around Christmas often meant a chance to get out for some ice fishing on frozen ponds or the bays of Lake Champlain.
Gram knew I loved pumpkin pie, so much that she’d bake a second pie and keep it stashed away just for me. She also knew I was a leg man, so as the bird was being cut up, she would remind diners, “Now, one of those drumsticks is for Kenny.” Lord, I loved that woman!
Thank you, the readers of this column. May you have a blessed, memorable Thanksgiving.
For more wide-ranging outdoors coverage, including videos, photos, fishing, hunting, wild game cooking and more, see Ken’s weblog at outdoorsrambler.com.