VDGIF recommends 3-day September bear season and both weeks of muzzleloader; 2 deer a day; no doe days and closing quail on public land

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is proposing eliminating the one doe day on national forest and wildlife management land in Botetourt and some other counties West of the Blue Ridge, adding an early 3-day bear season in September and making bear hunting legal (without dogs) during the full two weeks of muzzleloader deer season in many counties, including Botetourt.

The DGIF is also proposing eliminating quail season on public land West of the Blue Ridge because of the continued decline in quail populations in that part of the state.

There is also a proposal to increase the deer bag limit to 2 per day West of the Blue Ridge. That proposal was not in the summary provided to the agenda for the DGIF Board of Directors meeting but was in a PowerPoint presentation at that meeting.

These recommendations and others involving selling deer parts and furs, the caliber of air rifles needed to deer hunt, crow season, using a slingbow during archery season, feeding bears, migratory bird seasons and adjusting deer seasons in a variety of other counties were approved for public comment when the DGIF Board of Directors met last week in Richmond.

The two major changes for Botetourt are the regulations affecting doe days on national forest land during the regular firearms season and the changes to the bear hunting seasons.

The recommendations for both are related to populations— in the case of the doe days, a continuing low population of deer on national forest land; and in the case of the bear season changes, the desire to reduce the bear population by 25 percent over the next five years because bears have reached a near nuisance level.

The proposal to allow harvesting antlered deer only on national forest land and wildlife management areas (WMA) also extends to Alleghany, Amherst, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Frederick, Highland (except Highland WMA), Nelson, Page, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren counties.

The reason the DGIF is making the proposal as part of its biennial look at hunting and trapping regulations is because deer populations in these areas have declined significantly over the last decade, and the 2015-2024 Virginia Deer Management Plan calls for increasing deer populations on these lands. “Despite conservative seasons, these populations have not rebounded, so this proposal seeks to further reduce the harvest of antlerless deer in these areas,” the DGIF proposal says.

On private land in Botetourt, does will still be legal during the full two weeks of regular firearms season.

Bear Season Changes

The two proposal that are designed to increase the bear kill by as much as 25 percent in Botetourt and some of its adjoining counties is the result of challenges associated with what the DGIF calls Cultural Carrying Capacity (CCC).

Most of the counties in the Shenandoah Valley from Botetourt west to the West Virginia line and north along the I-81 corridor are in the part of the state where bear complaints have become commonplace.

According to the DGIF recommendations, these areas have some of the highest bear populations in Virginia that results in a large proportion of calls to DGIF about bears. “While the vulnerable agricultural crops (e.g., corn, orchards) range from lowest in the state to the relatively highest (in the Valley), the number of agricultural complaints and bears killed has become disproportionate in these areas,” the report says, adding, “…it is not uncommon for a farmer to kill 20-30 bears on his or her property annually, especially in poor mast years when bears in higher numbers are drawn into corn fields.

“While tolerance for bears was initially perceived to be relatively high in most areas,…in recent years concerns about the population have been expressed by both private and public entities.”

So, the DGIF recommended establishing a 25 percent reduction in the bear population over a 5-year period as the target for population reductions.

“In order to accomplish this, annual mortality would have to increase by 23 percent,” the DGIF report says.

The DGIF is proposing a 3-day early bear season in 37 counties that would be Monday-Wednesday following the last Saturday in September before the opening Saturday of the early statewide archery season for deer and bear.

Among the counties that would get the early bear season— which would allow hunting with dogs— also includes Alleghany, Rockbridge, Craig, Roanoke, Montgomery and Bath Counties.

Bedford County is not included in the early 3-day bear season.

The DGIF estimates a new 3-day early bear season would produce a 12 percent increase in the bear harvest. DGIF reported an early open season was supported through public comment in the initial public comment scoping period for hunting and trapping season changes.

DGIF estimates making both weeks of early muzzleloader season open for bears would result in about a 13 percent increase in the bear harvest. This was also supported through public comment in the initial public comment scoping period, the DGIF said.

Bears have been legal game during the second week of early muzzleloader season.

Ending Quail Season

The recommendation is to close the quail hunting season on all public lands West of the Blue Ridge is an effort to try to restore quail populations that have been on the decline for decades.

“Quail populations on public lands West of the Blue Ridge tend to be small and isolated, making them susceptible to over harvest,” the DGIF report says. “Efforts to recover quail have not met with success West of the Blue Ridge. In order to pave the way for re-establishment programs including translocation of wild quail onto suitable tracts of public land, and to allow remaining public lands quail populations a chance to recover, a closure of the quail season on all public lands west of the Blue Ridge is necessary,” the report says.

There are quail restoration efforts on private land— including in Botetourt—through a national quail habitat initiative supported with funding through the DGIF and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

There have been plans for trying to re-establishing quail populations on public land, but DGIF has not followed through with that effort yet. Plans for relocating wild quail to suitable habitat in West of the Blue Ridge have been delayed, partly because of concerns about hunting pressure that might follow.

Turkey regulations

Two changes are proposed for turkey hunting regulations that affect Botetourt. One is to make it unlawful to hunt turkeys while using or holding tail fans, using or holding partial or full decoys with tail fans, or with tail fans mounted to a firearm— whether real or synthetic— for safety reasons.

It would be lawful to hunt turkeys with tail fans or with partial or full decoys with tail fans from a stationary location if the tail fan or the partial or full decoys with tail fans are placed no closer than 20 feet from the hunter.

The second proposal is to close the archery season for fall turkey hunting the same day that early muzzleloader and regular firearms season for turkeys closes. Currently, the first part of the turkey season, where firearms and muzzleloaders are legal weapons, end on a Friday. However, the turkey archery season closes either one or seven days later, depending on the calendar year. This has created confusion to hunters and conservation police officers.

The DGIF will accept public comments on the proposals as meetings (to be announced), by mail and online leading up to the board’s May meeting.