State deer hunting regulations, population status and management objectives for Patrick County have been amended by the Virginia State Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), largely due to detection of chronic wasting disease (CWD) last year in North Carolina, within 10 miles of the county’s border. Regulations pertain only to private land; publicly held land is regulated separately.
Overall, the DWR strategy is to reduce deer herd densities by increasing the buck and antlerless deer kill in CWD-affected areas. It includes prohibiting the use of artificial food sources (bait piles, feeders, mineral licks, etc.) in Patrick County as well as in 36 other counties in the state.
In addition, all deer harvested in Patrick County on opening day (November 18) of the firearms season must be tested for CWD. Additional testing for the disease will be available throughout the season.
The state’s deer hunting regulations are evaluated and amended every other year, effective in the odd years.
How we got here
The DWR’s management plan incorporates any county located within 10 miles of a CWD detection into a disease management area (DMA), according to Justin Folks, DWR’s deer project leader, and Katie Martin, its deer-bear-turkey biologist. Due to a North Carolina detection, Patrick County has been added to Disease Management Area 3 (DMA3), which also includes Carroll, Floyd, Montgomery and Pulaski counties.
DMA3 was established in 2021 when a 2.5 year-old male deer legally harvested in November 2020 in Montgomery County, VA was confirmed to be infected with CWD. Up until that time, the closest case of CWD in Virginia had been found more than 160 miles away, in Madison County.
The presence of CWD is not quickly or easily discernible. At the time of the November 2020 harvest in Montgomery County, the hunter had not noticed any outward signs of disease and the deer appeared to be in good condition.
Further surveillance since 2021 has detected 11 cases of CWD-infected deer in DMA3: 6 in Montgomery, 4 in Floyd, and 1 in Pulaski). Additionally, CWD has been detected in several northern North Carolina counties that border Virginia.
Abundance of caution
CWD is a disease found in some deer, elk and moose populations but exact details are yet to be scientifically established. The infection is believed to be caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which are thought to lead to brain and neurological damage to portions of the brain. In deer, it typically causes progressive loss of body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation and death.
“To date, there is no strong evidence for the occurrence of CWD in people, and it is not known if people can get infected with CWD prions,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Hunters harvesting wild deer and elk from areas with reported CWD should check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required.”
In Virginia, testing is required in three multi-county regions where the presence of CWD is known or strongly suspected. Not all counties in the state are included in a DMA but more are added as new instances of the disease are detected.
None of the changes, current or past, are expected to solve the CWD issue in Virginia, cautions DWR. “There is still much to be learned about CWD management in white-tailed deer. At this time, there are two major emerging approaches. First, to reduce deer herd densities by increasing the antlerless deer kill and, second, to increase the buck mortality rate in CWD-affected areas.”
Carroll, Floyd, Montgomery and Pulaski counties are subject to earn-a-buck regulations and are open for late (Jan. 7 – March 31) antlerless-only general firearms season on private lands. (Note that Patrick County is not included in this list.)
The heads and at least 4 inches of neck of all deer harvested on Nov. 18 in DMA3, which includes Patrick County, must be taken to either a DWR-staffed sample station or a refrigerated CWD testing drop off station.
Cana Volunteer Fire Department’s main station at 391 Fire House Road, Cana;
Cana VFD station at 4235 Flower Gap Road, Cana (staffed 8a.m. to 7p.m.);
Howell’s Grocery: 230 Woolwine Hwy, Stuart (staffed 8a.m. to 7p.m.);
Dominion Valley Park — 692 Dominion Valley Ln, Stuart;
Fairystone Farms Wildlife Management Area — Fairystone Farm Ln off Goose Point Rd, Bassett, VA ;
Meadows of Dan Community Building, 2858 Jeb Stuart Hwy, Meadows of Dan
After Nov. 18, CWD testing is voluntary.
Hunters will be asked to identify the one-mile grid in which their deer was harvested. DWR provides an online map to help; the grid number can be found by either zooming in on the location of harvest or with the search bar using GPS coordinates or a nearby address.
Whole deer carcasses and certain carcass parts cannot be legally transported outside of DMA3. The exceptions:
Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached;
Hides and capes with no heads attached;
Clean (no meat or tissue attached) skulls and skull plates with or without antlers attached;
Clean jaw bones;
Antlers with no meat or tissue attached;
Upper canine teeth, also known as “buglers,” “whistlers,” or “ivories.”
Since adult males are the sex and age class most likely to have CWD, DWR also works with a network of taxidermists in a statewide surveillance strategy. Approximately 2,000 samples from hunter-harvested deer have been submitted by participating taxidermists with no new detections found until fall 2022. That was when Fairfax County’s first CWD infection was found.
Reducing herd sizes
Past experience indicates that the ups and downs in annual deer kill totals often depends on the size of the years to mast crops (acorns, mostly). In years of poor mast crops, the deer kill typically goes up as deer move more in search of food and are more likely to be seen by hunters. In years of good mast crops, the deer kill typically goes down. DWR expects a slight uptick in total deer kill numbers this fall due to a below-average acorn crop.
“A major increase or decrease in the statewide deer kill total is not expected,” say Folks and Martin in their report. “Over the past 30 years, the statewide annual deer kill has been relatively stable and ranged from about 179,000 to 259,000 and averaged about 212,300.”
During the 2022 deer season, Virginia deer hunters reported 186,788 killed, including 90,349 antlered bucks, 12,117 button bucks, and 83,058 does. (The numbers above do not include deer taken on out-of-season deer kill permits or those deer hit and killed by vehicles.)
Patrick County’s 2022 deer harvest included 925 antlered males, 45 button bucks and 375 females. From records dating back to 1957, the county’s largest harvest was in 2003, with 2,954 deer taken.
The best way to compare deer populations in Virginia is based on the antlered buck deer kill per square mile of estimated deer habitat, according to Folks and Martin. Still, it’s an estimate, not a census. The relative abundance descriptions are subjective.
DWR posts a map on its web site that depicts the relative differences among 97 “deer management units” (most are counties, some are not) in the kill of antlered bucks per square mile of habitat on private land, averaged over the past three hunting seasons. This is considered the best map of “where” deer are in Virginia and “what” deer population level is targeted by DWR for that area.
The current deer population status on private lands is indicated by the base color of the unit, ranging from red for more abundant through orange, yellow and green to white for less abundant.
The same red-to-white spectrum is used for up- and down-arrows to indicate the Department’s objective for deer population on private lands. Units without an arrow are currently within or at their desired deer population level. No arrow is red. Patrick County has a white star instead of an arrow because its population goal was changed late in the biannual analysis. Originally, a moderate decrease; the objective now is for stabilization.
Bottom line: in 46 units, or approximately half of the state, the Department is actively managing to reduce deer populations. In 42 management units, or 43 percent, the Department wants to maintain current deer population levels, and lastly, in only nine management units, is the Department actively managing to increase deer numbers.