The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources released harvest data for the 2021-22 hunting season last month. The results were that Virginia hunters harvested fewer bears, deer, and turkeys than the previous year and less than the five year average. The news release included several reasons for the possible decline. The fall was warmer and drier than average and acorns were variable across the state. The warm weather may have kept hunters out of woods believing that deer don’t move as much.
One reason they did not include was the requirement for the 2021-22 season to report all wildlife harvested to be done so electronically. Electronic reporting has been increasing over the last few years and it seems most hunters have been able to adapt to this new requirement. The declines may be due to Virginia increasing hunting opportunities over the last several years. In 2021-22 the bear harvest declined by 16%, deer harvest declined by 8%, and fall turkey harvest by 21%. The decline in fall turkey harvest may also be due to hunters waiting until spring to take a turkey. Surveys indicated that turkey populations were fairly stable last year.
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of opportunities for hunters to take to the woods. Sunday deer hunting on private land has been in effect since 2014. Turkey hunting increased by one day with adding the day before Thanksgiving as another opportunity. Even with these additional chances to hunt there are fewer Virginians hunting than in years past. Only 3% of Virginians buy hunting licenses. Compare this to South Dakota where 24% of residents buy hunting licenses. In California it is less than 1%.
Virginia’s General Assembly is considering legislation to allow Sunday hunting on public land beginning in 2022. As of this writing the legislation passed the Virginia Senate but not the House of Delegates. This change would certainly expand opportunities for hunters to take to the woods for an extra day of hunting. Even hunting on Saturday may be a challenge for some who work on Saturdays or are shift workers. This change would also mean that hikers, bird watchers, and others may choose not to take to the woods during hunting season.
A few additional statistics gleamed from the harvest data were as follows for bears: 61% of bears were harvested using hounds; there were 54 bears harvested in Rockingham compared to 184 in 2019 and 107 in 2020. For deer: 4,233 deer were harvested in Rockingham county compared to 4,775 in 2020; 39% killed in Rockingham were female; 14% of the total deer harvest was with bows while 23% were with muzzleloaders. For turkeys: 17 turkeys were harvested in Rockingham while the 5-year average is 29; 93% of turkeys were harvested on private land; 24% of turkeys are harvested on Thanksgiving Day or the Wednesday before.
There are also over 6,000 automobile collisions in the state each year involving deer. Over 50% of those take place the last three months of the year. Late winter means deer are bunching up again after last fall’s rut. Passing a harvested corn field at dusk will present plenty of viewing opportunities for groups of deer of all sizes. Bucks have shed their antlers so now might be a good time to take to the woods and look for next year’s hunting spots. I’m what you would call a lazy hunter. I ask family for advice where to hunt and where to sit during hunting season. I have been lucky to kill a few deer over the years. I always say I will be a more active hunter, do more scouting, and read more about hunting but I usually don’t. To be really good at something author Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book Outliers that you need to practice that something for at least 10,000 hours. That is a lot of practice sitting in the woods and waiting. That is a lot of time scouting before and during the season. That is a lot target practice and gun cleaning. There are probably only a few dozen skillful hunters in the entire state of Virginia. My brother is one of them. He has put in the time and honed his skills. And I dare say he enjoys it.