Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) have compiled preliminary figures for the 2019-20 hunting season. The Virginia deer harvest reflected a modest increase and the turkey harvest decreased from the previous year.
According to Dr. Gray Anderson, Wildlife Division Chief, “The annual variation in this year’s deer and turkey harvests is normal. Most populations are healthy and on-track with long-range management plan objectives.” These harvest data are used to monitor game populations and inform future regulatory decisions.
During the 2019-20 deer hunting season that ended January 4th, hunters harvested 206,976 deer in Virginia, up about 9% from the 190,636 deer taken during the same time frame the previous season. This year’s total included 99,994 antlered bucks, 901 bucks that had shed their antlers, 13,820 button bucks, and 92,261 does (45%).
Locally, 3,199 deer were harvested in Accomack County in 2019, 377 more than 2018, with 1,280 of those being antlered males, 1,648 being does, and 271 being male fawns. In Northampton County, 1,475 deer were harvested in 2019, which was 75 more than 2018. Of those, 526 were male, 795 were does and 154 were male fawns.
According to Deer Project Leader Matt Knox, the majority of the increase in the fall 2019 deer harvest can be attributed to regulation changes designed to harvest more antlerless deer. These changes did significantly increase the number of antlerless deer taken by more than 10,000 animals from fall 2018 to fall 2019. In addition, weather was favorable during prime hunting periods this past fall compared to the previous year, and acorn crops were poor or spotty in many areas, likely making deer more visible to hunters as they moved widely in search of food.
A total of 2,018 wild turkeys were harvested in Virginia during the 2019-20 fall turkey hunting season, 15% lower than last year’s harvest (2,363). The harvest declined five percent in counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains while the harvest decreased 26% in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. More than 93% of fall turkeys were reported through the electronic checking system (telephone, online, and app).
In Accomack County, 163 turkeys were taken in 2019, up 31 from 2018 and a 5 year high. In Northampton County, 59 were taken, down 14 from 2018.
While Virginia’s turkey population is close to record levels for modern times, fall harvests will fluctuate due to a number of other factors beyond the population size. These factors, which vary across the state, include the length and timing of the fall season, annual variation in reproductive success, acorn abundance, hunting pressure, and weather.