By Dylan Cooper, columnist
The data from the 2020 fall hunting season has been accumulated by the VA Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Across the state, the 2020-2021 season saw nearly the same deer harvest as the 2019-2020 season with a less than 1-percent increase from 206,976 to 208,131 deer tagged. This was the fourth year in a row with an increase in the statewide deer harvest after the 2016 harvest was a 17-year low. Approximately 88 percent of deer harvests were checked electronically, leaving just 12 percent checked alternatively during the last season in which there are official state game check stations.
For Page County, the harvest numbers looked especially good for 2020. There were 813 bucks, 407 does, and 65 button bucks checked for a total of 1,285 deer harvested county-wide in the 2020-2021 season. This was the fourth highest deer harvest total in history of the county (#1 was 2003, #2 was 2008, and #3 was 1992), and the second highest total number of bucks harvested out of the 74 year record (#1 was 1992). It was similar to the state trend in that it was the fourth year in a row of increased deer harvest totals. I think all of this is a sign that Page’s deer herd is getting stronger.
The 2020 bear harvest was also high across the state at 3,464, which was the second highest on record behind only the previous season’s 3,560 bears. The data for Page County did not follow this state trend. The 2020 season only saw 54 bears harvested county-wide, whereas 2019 had 75 and 2018 had 77 reported bear harvests.
Fall turkey harvests statewide were 2,092, and for Page County there were just eight fall turkeys harvested. Don’t worry though, as I think this spring turkey harvest will be just fine. Last season, I saw more jakes and gobblers than I ever have, and I actually harvested one with my crossbow for some tasty deliciousness amongst the deer meat I was harvesting. I elected for a neck shot using my pre-expanded broadhead over the more typical body shot for an archery bird.
Speaking of turkey hunting, this coming weekend is the Youth and Apprentice Spring Turkey Hunting Weekend. Saturday and Sunday (April 3 and 4) are designated for any youth (under 16) or those with an apprentice license to harvest one bearded turkey (when in compliance with all applicable laws and licenses) and they must hunt when accompanied and directly supervised by an adult over the age of 18 who has a valid Virginia hunting license or is exempt from purchasing a hunting license. They can hunt from a half hour before sunrise to sunset. The following weekend is when the general Spring Turkey Season starts on April 10. Bag limit is three bearded turkeys (over the whole license year). Legal hunting hours from April 10 to May 2 are half hour before sunrise to noon, and then through the remainder of the season (until May 15) the hours extend to sunset.
There are several other great opportunities to get kids involved in the outdoors right now with the warming weather. Shed hunting season is in its prime. A majority of bucks just shed their antlers in the past month and you can find those sheds more easily now than when the vegetation starts to grow. I have only been able to dedicate about a half hour to shed hunting so far this spring, but I found two nice 5-point sides that didn’t match (pictured). One came from a food plot and the other from a bedding area near a river. Those are two of the key areas that I focus on when shed hunting: food sources and the thick bedding areas near them.
Morel mushrooms should start popping up soon if they haven’t begun already. Kids are already at an advantage in this kind of hunting by being closer to the ground. This type of find-and-seek game with real edible prizes at the end are a great way to get the kids out and even increase your mushroom haul. Please properly identify what you pick, use tick protection (I’ve already had a deer tick bite this month), and watch out for snakes.
Lastly, trout fishing is my favorite kid-friendly activity. An Easter weekend family tradition of ours was to drive to West Virginia to a private trout pond where I learned to fish at just a couple years old using a Mickey Mouse pole and spin-casting reel. This Saturday, April 3, there is a similar opportunity put on by DWR, Graves Mountain Lodge, and Rapidan Chapter of Trout Unlimited at the Graves Mountain Lodge Kids’ Fishing Day. The state stocks thousands of pounds of rainbow and brook trout in the Rose River section on Graves Mountain Lodge property for children 12 and under to try to catch their limit of 6 for free! For kids 13-15 there is a catch-and-release pond that is also stocked with trout and bass. Free registration begins at 8:00 am and each child will receive a gift and a chance to receive an hourly prize giveaway. This event is similar to Trout Heritage Day (which is for all ages) also happening that day, fishing begins exactly at 9 am but you can get there earlier to claim your spot and then wait it out till 9. Other activities at Graves’ Mountain usually include games, hands-on learning activities, prizes, and warm food and beverages as well. Last year it was cancelled due to COVID-19 but other than that it has been an annual event on Trout Heritage Day. Trout Unlimited volunteers will be there on the stream to help with tying, baiting, untangling, and unhooking. It’s just a short 30-45 minute trip over to Madison County and a great time to introduce your kid to trout fishing.
If you can’t make that event this Saturday, there are a few other water bodies that DWR stocks with trout just for youth ages 15 and under. These are pre-announced stocking dates and locations and the list can be found here. A few of these are about an hour’s drive from Page County so take advantage of them over the next month or so. There have been other kids’ fishing days out there like the ones at Hawksbill and Happy Creeks that are sponsored by other organizations to keep in mind too. These were cancelled last year due to COVID-19, but I would still be on the lookout for them this spring. The kids’ event on the Hawksbill is usually the first Saturday in May. Lastly, West Virginia DNR is currently doing their “Gold Rush” stocking for two weeks where select waters get a full dose of golden phase rainbow trout. These can be an exciting catch for a child so an out-of-state fishing trip is also an option.
Dylan Cooper is a Page County native and graduate of Luray High School and Virginia Tech. He is a stream restoration specialist for a local non-profit and a registered professional engineer in the state of Virginia. Avid outdoorsman and ardent environmentalist, he resides in Luray with his wife and dogs.
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