Conway Robinson State Forest
Deer Management Program
Final Report
2009

Introduction

The development of the Conway-Robinson State Forest’s Deer Management 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 for 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 Agency’s 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. Conversely, biological carrying capacity of a healthy herd in a healthy landscape is 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 species composition – in this case, shade-tolerant species and 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 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 in the 2008-2009 season. The goal was to reduce the current herd population from 140-160 deer per square mile to 80 per square mile 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.  It was determined that control of the female population would be essential in controlling the overall population of the herd.  An evaluation was then made regarding the type of hunting that would best fit our goals. After evaluating the forest’s size; herd population, and our reduction goals, a shotgun hunt was deemed the most logical. The forest, prior to ‘08-’09, had not been hunted since coming into the Department’s possession in 1938. Therefore, we needed to exhibit an element of control and oversight. This included utilizing safe, professional and qualified hunters to ensure validity and the longevity of the program. The program also needed to be kept small and manageable to allow our staff to operate efficiently.

The first step in implementing our plan 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 existing programs and to build consistency within managed hunts in Northern Virginia.

The Program

As in the 2008-2009 season, we divided the forest into compartments of various sizes and shapes, as dictated by topography, trails and natural features (see appendix, Attachment 2). Each compartment had at least one orange stake placed within its boundaries and its latitude and longitude were provided. These stakes signified a hunter’s stand location.  In an effort to add hunters and increase deer harvest, we added six additional stakes for the 2009 season. In each compartment, the hunter could place his or her stand in a tree of his/her choosing within 150’ of the stake. The number of stakes determined how many hunters we would select. Hunters were assigned a compartment to hunt for all four designated hunt days. Compartments were assigned by a random drawing conducted by at the pre-hunt safety and orientation 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 (DGIF) website and DGIF’s “Outdoor Report”. Electronic ballots were posted for interested hunters and alternates to complete and submit for a lottery selection – a process that was an upgrade from the paper ballots of the ‘08-‘09 program.  Seventeen hunters and 20 alternates were selected.  Each hunter and alternate was notified of his/her selection by email and letter.  The selected individuals were then required to purchase a State Forest Use Permit and were required to “qualify” themselves, their firearms and shots as explained in the “Protocol” (see appendix, Attachment 1). They were also required to attend the pre-hunt safety and orientation meeting to maintain qualification and eligibility. The exceptions to these requirements were the handicapped hunters as they were accompanied by DGIF and/or DOF staff.

Four hunt dates were selected for our program and one bonus day was added as a handicapped hunt with the Wheelin’ Sportsmen of Virginia.  The program dates selected were November 16th & 17th, December 7th and 14th, with the Wheelin’ Sportsmen’s date of December 10th.  During these dates, the forest was closed to the general public.  Notification of forest closure was conducted by posting signs on the kiosk at the main parking lot and by placing signs along trails throughout the forest 30 days prior to the hunt. We also had the information posted on Heritage Hunt Home Owners’ Association (HOA) information boards and presented program details at its HOA meeting.

Each hunter was provided with DGIF Deer Management Assistance Program Special Permits (DMAP) and was permitted to harvest an unlimited number of antler-less deer each day of the hunt. Hunters were also allowed to harvest antlered deer with 5 points or more on one side of their rack, and were required to use their buck tags to harvest qualifying males. Each hunter was to provide for and hunt from a self-climbing, elevated stand. Check-in and check-out times were also used. At check-in each morning, each hunter and alternate was required to show qualification card; qualified firearm; shot, and a picture ID. Safety items and program updates were discussed each morning at check-in to ensure the program guidelines were followed.

The Results

We had an unexpectedly low turnout for the final qualification step. Out of the 37 selected individuals, only 14 chose to attend the Safety/Orientation meeting. The reason for this low turnout is unknown at this time. As a result, we made the decision that “alternates” would be given “selected” hunter status and were given the opportunity to select a compartment for all four hunt days. This still left us with no alternate hunters and three vacant stands for the program. It was decided that, due to the short time frame between the meeting and the first hunt day (2 weeks), we would contact participants from the 2008-‘09 program and offer them an opportunity to participate. This decision was made for four reasons.

  1. We did not believe that we would have ample time to draw and contact new 2009 lottery participants. 
  2. New candidates would not have time to meet all qualifying standards.
  3. We would not have time to host another orientation meeting prior to November 16th.
  4. The 2008-‘09 participants qualifying credentials were still valid for the 2009 program.

A total of 37 deer were harvested – 14 males [11 shed bucks, (legal)] and 23 female. Average field dressed weight of all deer taken was 63.9 lbs. (see TABLE 1).

TABLE 1

2009 Conway-Robinson Deer Harvest Data

Day 1 (11/16/2009)

Number Male Female Weight # Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1   X 85 0 No A  
2 X   75 4 Yes H2  
3   X 86 0 No H2 See above deer
4   X 84 0 No H  
5   X 78 0 No I  
6   X 44 0 No I  
7 X   85 2 No  H  
8   X 85 0  No C  
9 X   55 0 No C  
10   X 85 0 No D2  
11   X 60 0 No G2  
12   X 102 0 No G2  
13 X   44 0 No G2  
14 X   85 6 Yes G2  
15   X 40 0 No G2  
16 X   45 0 No G2  
17   X 86 0 No G2  
18   X 86 0 No G2  
19   X 82 0 No F  
20   X 72 0 No K  
21 X   32 0 No B  
22 X   37 0 No B  
23   X 38 0 No B  

Day 1 (11/16/2009) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
8 14 68.3 2

Day 2 (11/17/2009)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1 X   85 3 Yes G2 Alternate
2   X 33 0 No B  
3   X 69 0 No D  

Day 2 (11/17/2009) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
1 2 62.3 1

Day 3 (12/7/2009)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1 X   66 2 No C Under 1.5” tall
2   X 70 0 No K  
3   X 84 0 No B  
4 X   49 0 No B  
5   X 75 0 No B  
6   X 69 0 No H  
7   X 77 0 No I2  
8 X   31 0 No D  

Day 3 (12/7/2009) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
3 5 65.1 0

Day 4 (12/14/2009)

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1   X 34 0 No I2  

Day 4 (12/14/2009) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
0 1 34 0

Wheelin’ Sportsmen 12-10-2009

Number Male Female Weight Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1 X   50 0 No F  
2   X 38 0 No F  

Wheelin’ Sportsmen 12-10-2009 - Stats:

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ
1 1 44 0

Overall Hunt Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ Comments
14 23 63.9 3 89% of desired targets

Number by Compartment

Stand Number Rank
A 1 5
B 7 2
B2 0 6
C 3 3
D 2 4
D2 1 5
E 0 6
E2 0 6
F 3 3
G 0 6
G2 9 1
H 3 3
H2 2 4
I 2 4
I2 2 4
J 0 6
K 2 4
  37  

Conclusion

Although we did not obtain our harvest goal of 80 deer, we were successful in many respects. Eighty-nine percent of the harvested deer were our antler-less target – an exceptionally high rate for hunts in the area and a 6 percent increase over the ‘08-‘09 program. We conducted our first-ever “Wheelin’ Sportsmen” hunt. Continual progress was made in our effort to reduce the detrimental impacts of a high population of deer, while having perceived success in forest health and increased regeneration. We did continue to offer a deer management program on a State Forest. The program was conducted safely with no occurrence of injuries or incidents, and we had exceptional cooperation from the hunters, partnering agencies and our staff. We continue to have a better understanding of deer herd management and can better relate the benefits of herd management to landowners. The first-hand experience gained with conducting this type of program in the area has helped us increased awareness to the public of the necessity of deer management. We have also established a new opportunity for recreational hunters in an urbanizing area that features decreasing hunting acres and opportunities.

Thanks

The Department of Forestry thanks all of our partnering agencies; the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries volunteers; our many cooperators; hunters; qualifying ranges; the Wheelin’ Sportsmen of Virginia, and the residents of Prince William County for their understanding and patience.

Appendix