October 13, 2023
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2023 White Tail Deer Forecast

By Justin Folks/DWR and Katie Martin/DWR

2022 Virginia Deer Season Review

During the past deer season 186,788 deer were reported killed by deer hunters in Virginia. This total included 90,349 antlered bucks, 12,117 button bucks, and 83,058 does (44% females).

Archery (including crossbows) accounted for 16% of the deer kill; muzzleloaders, 24%; and firearms, 60%. The numbers above do not include deer taken on out-of-season deer kill permits or those deer hit and killed by vehicles.

What’s New For Fall 2023

Deer regulations in Virginia are evaluated and amended every other year.  This past year was a regulation cycle and hence there are several changes that were adopted by the Board of DWR which will go into effect for the 2023 season.

Take the Virginia Young Adults Survey, for Virginians age 18-25.
  • All cities and towns which allow deer hunting now have a seven-week firearms season.
  • The early and late muzzleloader seasons on private lands in Smyth County will be full season either-sex.
  • Earn-A-Buck has also been simplified to be 1:1 for all counties in EAB, rather than 2:1 in certain counties.

Tidewater Forecast

Over most of the past three decades, the deer kill in Tidewater has been fairly stable between 40,000-50,000 deer. The one exception was a period between about 2005 and 2013 when the Department hit the deer herds hard on private lands over much of the Tidewater region with liberal seasons and regulations. Because of this liberalization, the deer kill increased to between 50,000-65,000 annually and these regulations combined with three HD events in 2012, 2014 (big), and 2016 resulted in a decline in the Tidewater deer herd.

Since that time, regulations have been made more conservative in some areas, and deer herds and deer kill numbers across most of the Tidewater region have recovered. If HD is not a big player in fall 2023, stable deer herds are expected across most of the Tidewater Region. Continued high human population growth rates, crop damage, and deer-vehicle collisions remain important deer management issues in Tidewater.

As shown above, most deer herds in Tidewater are at moderate (yellow) to moderate to high (orange) deer relative abundance levels and the Department’s current management strategy is either to reduce or maintain deer populations over this region. There is not a deer management unit in Tidewater where the Department is trying to increase the deer population.

Relative Deer Abundance

The best way to compare deer populations in Virginia is based on the antlered buck deer kill per square mile of estimated deer habitat. The image above shows the relative differences among counties in the kill of antlered bucks per square mile of habitat on private land, averaged over the past three hunting seasons. The current deer population status on private lands is indicated by the base color of the county, ranging from more abundant (red) to less abundant (white). The Department’s deer population management objective for private lands is indicated by the color of the up or down arrow. Counties without an arrow are currently within or at their desired deer population level. This is the best map of “where” deer are in Virginia and “what” deer population level the Department’s Deer Management Plan indicates is wanted for that area. The relative abundance descriptions used above are subjective (e.g., very low/white, low/green, moderate/yellow, moderate to high/orange, and high/red).

Accomack County boasts a higher population of white tailed deer than Northampton. It is the goal of the VDF to reduce the number of deer on the Eastern Shore.

Summary

So what is the forecast for the fall 2023 deer season? Unless there is a late, significant HD event, deer populations and the deer kill across most of the state should be stable to increasing. A major increase or decrease in the statewide deer kill total is not expected. Over the past 30 years, the statewide annual deer kill has been relatively stable and ranged from about 179,000 to 259,000 and averaged about 212,300 (see Figure 1).

Past experience indicates that the ups and downs in annual deer kill totals are in part attributable to mast—acorns, mostly—conditions and/or HD outbreaks. In years of poor mast crops, the deer kill typically goes up as deer move more in search of food and are more likely to be seen by hunters. In years of good mast crops, the deer kill typically goes down. We’d expect a slight uptick in total deer kill numbers this fall due to a quiet HD season and a below-average acorn crop.

Persons interested in more information on Virginia’s deer management program can look at the Department’s deer management plan.

Pep Up

Good luck to all this season! Please support the Virginia Hunters for the Hungry program, do not feed the deer, be safe, and introduce someone new to deer hunting this year—the future of the sport depends on it.


Justin Folks is DWR’s deer project leader and Katie Martin is DWR’s deer-bear-turkey biologist.

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