Disease Affecting Some Deer, but Hunting Outlook Promising

Deer season is shaping up in Virginia and North Carolina. Virginia hunters in select counties and towns have a few weeks of the state's special Urban Archery season under their belts and Matt Knox, deer project coordinator, says the harvest so far has been about 700 animals--a little higher than average. The general statewide archery season opens October 6, but young hunters will get an early opportunity this weekend.

"The youth-only season is this Saturday (September 29), and the young hunters can use any legal weapon, so long as they're with an adult," Knox says. "Most of them will gun hunt, and provided the weather is decent, they usually take around 2,000 deer during that season. Our bucks are all out of velvet, and I've heard several reports of early rubs. Reports on the mast crop are looking good, too. We're still having problems with hemorrhagic disease (HD) in some counties, so we're hoping for a good frost soon."

Bow season has been open since September 8 in most of North Carolina. Though hunters in much of the state have had an average season thus far, the Foothill Region in western North Carolina--particularly Surry, Wilkes, and Caldwell counties--has been significantly affected by HD according to North Carolina Deer Biologist Evin Stanford.

"In localized areas, we're observing some of our highest-ever rates of mortality, particularly in those counties," Stanford says. "The archery harvest in that area is down significantly from where it was last year. We're not to the point of making regulation changes or anything, but several landowners in the area are concerned. We're advising folks who are worried about their deer numbers to back off on their doe harvest for the season."

Things are looking pretty good elsewhere in North Carolina. "Although the official report won't be available until October, it seems the mast crop is pretty good all across the state," Stanford said. "And though much of the Mid-South was dry all summer, we actually had average to above-average rainfall here, so our crops look pretty good. Rut activity tends to be earliest on the coast out here, and progressively later as you move farther inland. We've already had some reports of rut activity in the eastern part of the state this season."

Stanford added that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is in the process of a three-year deer hunting data collection program, and he urged hunters to cooperate if asked. "Getting the participation can be a challenge, but we're simply trying to get a better handle on the state of our deer herd," he says. "We're contacting successful hunters directly, in addition to working with hunting clubs and meat processors, to collect biological data."

It's the region that made Odocoileus virginianus famous: Classic woodland habitat with a perfect mix of ag fields and bottomland. Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.