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Sunday, October 13, 2013
Data seem to support what many deer hunters who have already been out this season assumed: the youth hunt was a smashing success, but the archery opening day was a little tough.
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is able to do some preliminary tracking of the deer hunting season through its electronic game checking system.
Because hunters may still check in their game at authorized checking stations, and those numbers won’t be collected until the season is complete, the electronic checking numbers offer just an estimate. But, because the system has been in place for a number of years the agency has a pretty good idea what percentage of hunters will opt for the electronic option, thus can quite accurately predict what the final totals will be.
This year’s youth day on Sept. 28 produced 1,911 electronically checked deer. That’s a whopping 45 percent increase over last year’s youth day electronic figure of 1,316.
Last year, the youth day total ended up being 1,977, which meant that electronic checking accounted for 64 percent of the total.
Assuming electronic checking participation grows slightly this year, as trends would suggest, game department biologists are estimating that the final youth day deer take will end up in the neighborhood of 2,625.
Virginia’s deer biologists suspect that Virginia’s whitetail population is down from previous years, and a drop in population doesn’t typically jibe with big jumps in deer kills.
However, a couple of factors likely contributed to the big jump in the youth day take.
One was a new rule that allowed holders of apprentice hunting licenses to participate in the youth day hunt. Previously, the hunt was open only to chaperoned youth 15 and under.
With likely a couple of thousand apprentice license holders added to the hunter pool, youth day participation no doubt was up.
Another possible contributor was nature. The acorn crop is poor statewide. In years of mast failures deer tend to feed in the open, where they are more vulnerable to hunters.
The poor acorn crop may have also come into play in the archery opener tally.
The electronic check total on the Oct. 5 opener was 1,587, which is actually a 5 percent decline over the 2012 opener.
Frankly, that kind of difference for a day’s hunting from one year to the next is statistically insignificant. Still, it could be possible that archers had it a little tougher because of that poor acorn crop. While deer in fields can be good news for gun hunters — and roughly 75 percent of the youth day deer were killed with rifles or muzzleloaders — they can be a little tougher for bowhunters.
This fall also brought the debut of a youth/apprentice bear hunting day, which was also on Sept. 28.
Not even basic kill totals are available for bears, however, because all bears must be checked in person at weigh stations.
The in-person checking is required because a tooth is collected from each bear skull to help the DGIF collect important age data.
Jaime Sajecki, head of the agency’s bear program, said early this week that she had heard reports that at least 66 bears were checked in on the youth/apprentice day. She expects the final tally to be several times that figure.
If that is the case, the youth/apprentice bear day take could end up being between 5 and 10 percent of the total bear kill for the season.
By comparison, the youth/apprentice deer kill will probably end up being about 1 percent of the total.
Why the disparity?
Hunting with hounds was allowed on the youth/apprentice day across Western Virginia.
Not only is that method is an effective way to hunt bears, but bear houndsmen are traditionally eager to keep youth involved in their sport.
During the regular hunting season houndsmen often pass up many of the bears their dogs tree. When they do decide to kill a bear, new and young hunters are often first offered the opportunity.
The new youth/apprentice day simply gave the houndsmen an opportunity to do that earlier in the fall than normal.
More shifts for Outdoors page
This summer, for reasons I won’t try to explain, my weekly Outdoors page in The Roanoke Times moved from the Friday Sports section to the back of the Sunday business section. My weekly column shifted from Sunday’s Sports section to Friday’s.
It’s time for another change.
Elimination of the Horizon section on Sundays left the Books page without a home. The back of the Sunday Ticker seemed a better fit for books than for Outdoors, so Books now has that spot.
There simply isn’t space in Sunday’s Sports section for the Outdoors page, but we are going to slot it into Saturday’s Sports section, where it made its debut this weekend. Hey, I’m good with that.
More good news? As you may have figured out by now, I’ve got my Sunday column slot back.
I’ll still have the Tuesday spot, the one thing that hasn’t changed since I started here just over 15 years ago.
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