The Virginia deer and turkey harvests reflected an increase from last year and the black bear harvest was the second highest ever recorded in Virginia. Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have compiled the preliminary figures for the 2015-16 fall/winter hunting season.
Virginia 2015-2016 Deer Harvest Summary
During the 2015-16 deer hunting season, hunters killed 209,197 deer in Virginia. This total included 103,310 antlered bucks, 15,000 button bucks, and 90,887 does (43%).
The youth deer hunting day in September, which was extended to the entire weekend in 2015, resulted in a kill of 3,076 deer. Archers, not including crossbow hunters, killed 15,078 deer, comprising 7% of the total deer kill. Crossbows accounted for 11,719 deer or 6% of the total deer kill. Muzzleloader hunters killed 42,517 deer or 20% of the total deer kill. Approximately 167,700 deer (80%) were checked using the Department’s telephone and Internet checking systems.
Stable or declining deer kill trends over the past decade in Virginia were expected, but the ups and downs in recent years’ deer kill totals were in some part attributable to mast conditions and/or Hemorrhagic Disease outbreaks. The Department’s primary deer management effort over the past decade was to increase the female deer kill over much of the state, especially on private lands, to meet the deer population objectives of stabilizing or reducing deer populations found in the Department’s deer management plan. The Department’s deer management staff anticipated that these high and sustained female deer kill levels would eventually lead to a decrease in the statewide deer herd and stable to declining total deer kill numbers experienced over the past decade.
Data presented in this summary are preliminary and do not include deer taken during the late urban archery or special late antlerless-only deer seasons. Data also do not include deer killed on out-of-season kill permits or those deer hit and killed by vehicles.
A total of 2,331 bears were harvested in Virginia during the 2015-16 bear hunting seasons, the second highest harvest ever recorded in Virginia. A number of factors influence the annual bear harvest including weather, mast crops, and shifts in hunter effort and participation. The 2015-16 hunting season was the first season with the new bear license requirement with 30,780 resident bear licenses and 926 non-resident bear licenses being sold.
In addition to these licensed hunters, 361 bears harvested during the season were killed by hunters exempt from purchasing a bear license. For 2015, the youth/apprentice hunting weekend was moved from the last weekend in September to the second weekend in October. While this weekend overlapped archery season, youth and apprentice hunters successfully took advantage of this special opportunity, harvesting 110 bears. Compared to the very good mast crop in 2014, mast production in 2015 was very spotty.
Annual mast conditions greatly influence the distribution of the bear harvest among hunting seasons. As bears concentrate around available food sources, they may become more vulnerable to harvest by early season hunters when food is scarce (especially in poor mast years), and may den earlier to conserve resources. Therefore, years with poor or spotty mast production typically result in archery harvests that make up a greater proportion of the total harvest compared to years with good mast production.
The average percent of bears killed during archery season varies from 19% of the total harvest in good mast years to 32% of total harvest in poor mast years. Because the bear harvest varies year-to-year due to the factors listed above, definitive conclusions regarding the impact of the new bear license aren’t evident. However, this year’s harvest fell within the range of harvests Virginia has experienced recently. Since 2008, harvests have exceeded 2,000 bears, the highest being in 2014 (2,412 bears) and the lowest in 2011 (2,005 bears).
As of 2014, recent bear harvests were meeting population objectives in the majority of bear management zones in Virginia. Data presented in this summary are preliminary and only include bears killed in the regulated bear hunting seasons. For additional details on black bear management in Virginia please read the 2012-2021 Black Bear Management Plan.
A total of 3,283 wild turkeys were harvested in Virginia during the 2015-16 fall turkey hunting season. While data suggest Virginia’s turkey population is at record levels for modern times, fall harvests will fluctuate due to a number of factors. These factors include annual variation in turkey productivity, mast conditions, and weather. Turkey productivity or “the hatch” can vary widely due to weather conditions in May and June.
In 2015, productivity (2.5 poults/hen) was slightly below our long-term average (2.7 poults/hen). Acorn abundance, which varies each year, significantly impacts fall turkey hunter success rates. In years with abundant acorns, wild turkey home ranges are small, making them harder for hunters to find. Conversely, without acorns, turkeys range further and hunter success rates increase. This year’s acorn production, particularly white oak, was spotty, likely increasing hunter success.
One of the goals of the Department’s Wild Turkey Management Plan is to promote fall turkey hunting. In 2015, the Youth and Apprentice Hunting day was expanded to include Sundays. Harvest during this special weekend totaled 57 birds. Virginia’s Jefferson and George Washington National Forests offer significant opportunities for fall turkey hunting.
The turkey harvest on our National Forests declined from 132 birds in 2014-15 to 116 birds in 2015-16. Due to limited acorn abundance, turkeys may have shifted their home ranges from the primarily forested National Forests to private lands with greater abundance of open land habitat types.
For more information on bear deer and turkey refer to the following:
Virginia’s Black Bear Management Plan can be viewed at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/blackbearmanagementplan.pdf
Information about black bears in Virginia can be found at
Virginia’s White-tailed Deer Management Plan can be viewed at
Information about white-tailed deer in Virginia can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/
Virginia’s Wild Turkey Management Plan can be found at
Information about wild turkeys in Virginia can be found at