Before Virginia deer hunters hit the woods this season I thought it wise to review what’s new in the way of regulations. My source is one of Virginia’s top deer management guru’s — really; Matt Knox, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ deer project coordinator. Each year Knox produces a deer season forecast, and the regulation review is an important part of getting ready before opening day.

“There are many new deer regulation changes for fall 2019. Here are some of the most notable: it is now illegal to use unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, for the purposes of hunting; the firearms deer season on private lands in western Amherst, Bedford and western Nelson counties has been extended from two to four weeks in length; Earn A Buck (EAB) has been initiated on private lands in Albemarle, Culpeper, Floyd, Franklin, Grayson, Hanover, Henrico, James City, Pulaski, Shenandoah, and York counties and EAB on private lands in Clarke, Frederick, and Warren counties was changed from 1:1 to 2:1; the deer bag limit on private lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains has been increased to two deer per day. Only one deer per day may be taken on National Forest lands, Department-owned lands and Department-managed lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and on National Forest lands in Amherst, Bedford and Nelson counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains; a firearms either-sex deer hunting day (the last day) has been initiated on National Forest and Department-owned lands in Alleghany, Amherst, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Botetourt, Frederick, Grayson, Highland, Nelson, Page, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Shenandoah, Smyth, Tazewell, Warren and Washington counties; a new deer feeding regulation was adopted that will prohibit deer feeding year round in any county designated by the Department within 25 miles of a confirmed detection of CWD. Deer feeding is now prohibited year round in Albemarle, Buchanan, Clarke, Culpeper, Dickenson, Fauquier, Frederick, Greene, Loudoun, Louisa, Madison, Orange, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Warren and Wise counties (towns and cities within included); lastly, a new regulation prohibits the importation of whole deer carcasses and certain high-risk carcass parts (e.g., head and spinal cord) from anywhere outside of Virginia.”

Moving on to a look at diseases that affect Virginia’s deer herd, Knox noted in his annual report that there is good news and bad news.

Regarding hemorrhagic disease (HD): “Good news, it has been fairly quiet with regards to HD across most of Virginia for two consecutive years, both fall 2017 and fall 2018. This is encouraging news because in 2012, 2014 and 2016, several areas in Virginia were hit hard by HD. Based on past experience, HD has the potential to have a major impact on deer herds in eastern Virginia and the best predictor for HD, activity continues to be summer drought. For more information on HD go to www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/hd/ .”

As far as chronic wasting disease (CWD) there’s bad news, says Knox.

“Bad news is on two fronts. First, in the CWD area in and around western Frederick County the number and distribution of CWD positives continues to grow and spread. Clinically sick deer (e.g., starving, staggering, with neurological symptoms) are now being found and reported. 

“To date, three clinical CWD deer have been found. CWD has also been found east of I-81 for the first time, and CWD is beginning to move south and become established in northern Shenandoah County. Due to the shifting CWD surveillance needs in the state, the department will only be conducting mandatory sampling of hunter-killed deer from Shenandoah County this fall and only on the first Saturday of the firearms season (Nov. 16). Samples will continue to be obtained throughout the four-county disease management area (DMA 1; Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties) from processors, taxidermists, road-killed deer, and deer dropped off by hunters at self-serve refrigerator drop points any day of the season.

“Second, CWD was discovered for the first time in another area of the state: Culpeper County. Using a pilot statewide taxidermist project, the department found CWD in a Culpeper County deer killed by a hunter in November 2018. To address this situation, a new CWD disease management area (DMA 2) that includes all of Culpeper, Madison and Orange counties has been established. This will mean major changes within these three counties. Deer hunters will no longer be allowed to transport whole deer carcasses out of this area, deer feeding will be prohibited year round, and mandatory testing will be initiated on the first Saturday of the firearms deer season (Nov. 16). It goes without saying the department will be relying on deer hunters for help.”

Knox reminds hunters to report deer that appear sick with the following symptoms (starving, staggering, with obvious neurological symptoms) to your district wildlife biologist. For more information on CWD go to https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd/ .

Now it’s on to those regional hunting forecasts you wait for all year from Knox.

Tidewater

Deer herds and deer kill numbers are down from a decade ago but are stable to very slightly increasing over the past five years across most of the Tidewater Region. In Tidewater, if HD is not a big player in fall 2019, stable to slightly increasing deer herds are expected. Continued high human population growth rates, crop damage and deer-vehicle collisions remain important deer management issues in Tidewater.

Southern Piedmont

HD hit the southeastern half of the Southern Piedmont like a sledgehammer in fall 2014. Hence, deer populations are down over the last decade but increasing and recovering over the last five years. Although there have been ups and downs, overall the deer kill and deer populations in the Southern Piedmont has been relatively stable for the last three decades.

HD can play a major role in the Southern Piedmont. As long as there is not another big HD event in this area in fall 2019, deer herds over most of this region should be stable or up slightly.

Northern Piedmont

This is the one region where the department continues to maintain long-term very liberal deer seasons. The female deer kill has been fairly high in this region for over a decade. Over most of this area, especially in NOVA, the department continues to try and reduce the deer population. The good news is that the deer kill over the region has been stable to slightly declining over the last decade. Stable to declining deer herds are desired moving forward. Continued very high human population growth rates and deer-vehicle collisions remain important deer management issues in the Northern Piedmont. HD can also play a role here.

West of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Deer management in western Virginia remains the tale of two different deer management situations. Deer herds on private lands over most of western Virginia have been fairly stable over the past two decades (with the exception of Alleghany, Bath, Bland and Highland counties).

With the exception of CWD in the northern Shenandoah Valley, the biggest challenge in deer management in western Virginia over the past 20 plus years has been the decline in the number of public land deer hunters and the decline in the public land deer kill in the mountains.

•••

Until next time, remember to cherish, protect and conserve the outdoors while sharing it with others.