Conway Robinson State Forest
Deer Management Program
Final Report
2008-2009

Introduction

The development of this program began in the spring of 2007.  Recognition of  issues pertaining to declining forest health, future forest management, deer herd health and community safety were the foundation of instituting the program.

Increases in decline and mortality of overstory oak species, persistence of invasive species and a severe lack of desirable regeneration have been recognized as concerns within the forest. These concerns, coupled with the additional impacts of an excessive deer population have increased the Agencies motivation to act in a responsible manner.  Heavy browsing on seed, seedlings and saplings have resulted in unacceptably low amounts of regeneration.  This lack of regeneration can be attributed in part, to the high population densities of whitetail deer. Estimates of the current population range from 140-160 individuals per square mile. Biological carrying capacity of a healthy herd in a healthy landscape are estimated to be approximately 20-40 per square mile.

As the Conway Robinson’s overstory continues to decline and succumb to the many agents that are active in a passively managed forest, we are left to manage the resulting population. In this case, shade tolerant species and in some cases, invasive species. This potential forest type results in lower wildlife value, lower economic value and constitutes a species shift within the forest as the climax species of oak is removed.

With increasing development pressures and an under-managed deer population as well, we can expect the negative impacts on our landscapes to continue and perhaps escalate.  It is our opinion that in order to increase our forest management options, improve the forest health and improve the health and long range sustainability of our deer population, active management needs to occur. It is our hope that through the management of our herd we will be able to sustain multiple wildlife populations by increasing forest stratification in species, age classes and physical structure. Our goal is to increase regeneration and provide a healthy, vigorous mixed hardwood forest. This will help us to manage multiple uses within the Forest.

The Foundation

We began this program with the goal of reducing the current herd population of  140-160 deer per square mile to a population of 80 per square mile. A reduction of 60-80 individuals within the first year. To accomplish this goal we needed to establish a successful mechanism and frame work. We began by developing a plan that would assist us in a multitude of ways. We determined that control of the female population would be essential in controlling the population. We evaluated what type of hunting would best fit our goals. After evaluating the forests size, herd population and our reduction goals, a shotgun hunt was deemed the most logical. We wanted to create a unique opportunity for area hunters. The Forest had not been hunted since coming into the Department’s possession in 1938.

We wanted to exhibit an element of control and oversight. We instituted safety, professionalism and qualified hunters into the program to ensure validity and the programs potential longevity. We also needed to keep the program small and manageable.

The first step in achieving this was to develop relationships with other agencies in the Northern Virginia area that have had a history of success with organized hunts.  We met with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Fairfax County Game Biologists, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) as well as the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.  From these meetings we then developed the “Hunter Protocol” (see appendix, Item #1), which mirrored many elements of the successful programs of our partners. We felt that it was important to emulate many of the aspects that have worked in the area in current programs. We also had a desire to build consistency within managed hunts in Northern Virginia.

The Program

We divided the Forest into compartments of various sizes and shapes, as dictated by topography, trails and natural features (see appendix, Item 2). Each compartment had an orange stake placed within its boundaries and its latitude and longitude was provided. Each hunter could place their stand in a tree of their choosing within 150’ of this stake.  The number of compartments determined how many hunters we would select.  Hunters were assigned a compartment to hunt for all four days. Compartments were assigned by random draw by each hunter at the pre-hunt meeting.

We began to advertise the hunting program on the Department of Forestry’s website as well as the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website and “Outdoor Report”.  We posted printable ballots for interested hunters and alternates to print and mail in for a lottery selection.  We selected eleven hunters and twenty alternates. The selected individuals were then required to purchase a State Forest hunting permit and were required to “qualify” themselves and their firearm as explained in the “Protocol” (see appendix, Item 1).  They were also to attend a pre hunt meeting in order to maintain qualification.

We selected four hunt dates. The dates selected were November 17th, December, 8th, January 12th and February 2nd.  During these dates the Forest was closed to the general public. Notification of Forest closure was done by posting signs on the kiosk at the main parking lot and by placing signs throughout the Forest along trails 30 days prior to the first hunt. We also had the information posted on Heritage Hunt Home Owners Association (HOA) information boards and presented material at their HOA meeting.

Hunters were permitted to harvest an unlimited number of antlerless deer on each day of the hunt.  Each hunter was provided with DGIF Deer Management Assistance Program Special Permits (DMAP).  Hunters were permitted to harvest antlered deer with 10 points or more.  Each hunter was to provide and hunt from an elevated stand.  Check in and check out times were also used.  At check in each morning, each hunter and alternate were required to show qualification card, qualified firearm and a picture ID.

The Results

We had ten of the eleven “selected” hunters and thirteen of the twenty selected “alternates” qualify. Alternates were broken into two categories, “A” and “B”.  Each group had the opportunity to hunt two days.  On Day 1 (November 17th), we had two “selected” hunters and two “alternates” disqualified for rule infractions.  After these four individuals were disqualified, no other hunters were disqualified for the remainder of the hunt. 

A total of 35 deer were harvested (see Table 1.).  Seven male (1 shed buck) and 28 female.  

TABLE 1

2008-2009 Conway Robinson Deer Harvest Data

Day 1 (11/17/2008)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1   X 45 0 No A
2 X   150 8 Yes K Selected Hunter
3   X 93 0 No I
4 X   120 8 Yes I Selected Hunter
5   X 95 0 No I
6   X 45 0 No I
7   X 45 0 No I
8 X   129 9 No B

Shape of rack no DQ

9   X 72 0 No C
10   X 81 0 No C
11   X 91 0 No E
12 X   115 8 Yes F Alternate hunter
13 X   110 7 Yes F

Alt. same as above

14   X 90 0 No A
15   X 80 0 No K Alternate hunter
16 X   98 2 Yes I Alternate hunter
17   X 64 0 No A Alternate hunter
18   X 90 0 No A Alternate hunter
19   X 80 0 No D
20   X 78 0 No K Alternate hunter

Stats: Day 1

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
6 14 88.5 4

Day 2 (12/08/2008)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1   X 100 0 No I
2   X 80 0 No I
3   X 55 0 No C
4   X 45 0 No C
5   X 90 0 No C
6   X 85 0 No C
7   X 90 0 No E
8   X 40 0 No E
9   X 70 0 No E  
10   X 95 0 No A  
11   X 56 0 No A  

Stats: Day 2

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
0 11 73.3 0

Day 3 (1/12/09)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1   X 44 0 No E
2   X 77 0 No E

Stats: Day 3

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
0 2 60.5 0

Day 4 (2/02/09)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1 X   79 0 No I Shed buck
2   X 75 0 No J  

Stats: Day 4

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
1 1 77 0

Overall Hunt Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ Comments
7 28 74.8 4 2 alternates & 2 selected hntrs. DQ, 1 shed male

Number by Compartment

Stand Number Rank
A 6 2
B 1 5
C 6 2
D 1 6
E 6 2
F 2 4
G 0 7
H 0 7
I 9 1
J 1 6
K 3 3
  35  

Conclusion

Although we did not obtain our harvest goal of 80 deer, we were successful in many different aspects.

  • 83% of the harvested deer were antlerless, a high rate for hunts in the area.
  • We did progress forward in our effort to reduce the population of deer, while having  perceived success in forest health.
  • We did establish a hunting program on a State Forest where no program had previously existed.
  • We had no injuries or incidents while performing the program.
  • We conducted the program safely with exeptional cooperation from the hunters, partnering agencies and our staff.
  • We now have a better understanding of deer herd management and can better relate the benefits of herd management to landowners. 
  • We have first hand experience with conducting this type of program in the area and have increased the awareness to the public of the necessity of deer management.
  • We have also established a new opportunity for recreational hunters in an urbanizing area, with decreasing hunting acres.

Thanks

The Department of Forestry would like to thank all of our partnering agencies, cooperators, hunters, qualifying ranges and the residents of Prince William County for their understanding and patience.

Appendix