Conway Robinson State Forest
Deer Management Program
Final Report
2010

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 were recognized as concerns within the forest. These concerns, coupled with the additional impacts of an excessive deer population, increased the Agency’s motivation to act in a responsible manner. Heavy deer browsing of seed, seedlings and saplings resulted in unacceptably low amounts of regeneration. Estimates of the current deer population range from 140-160 individuals per square mile. 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, specie composition will change from the shade-intolerant and moderately shade-tolerant species currently in the overstory to 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 oak is removed.

With increasing development pressures and an under-managed deer population, 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 expectation that through the management of White-tailed Deer we will be able to sustain multiple wildlife populations by increasing forest stratification in species, age classes and physical structure. The goal is to increase regeneration and provide a healthy, vigorous mixed hardwood forest. This will help us to manage multiple uses within the Forest. While properties surrounding the Conway Robinson have been hunted for many years, the Forest itself had not been hunted from 1938 (when it was donated to the Commonwealth) until this hunting program began in 2008.

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. We developed a plan to meet our objective of reducing the deer population while creating an opportunity for qualified area hunters; maintaining control and oversight of the hunters, and ensuring safety for all involved. Upon consultation of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologists, it was determined that reducing the number of female deer would be essential to controlling the population. We evaluated what type of hunting would best fit our goals. After considering the Forest’s size, herd population and our reduction goals, a shotgun hunt was deemed the best fit. Additionally, shotguns were the only firearms used on several managed hunts within Northern Virginia, and it was deemed suitable to maintain a uniform standard among the many managed hunts. Due to staff availability and time required, the program needed to be kept 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), and 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 2010 Program

Four goals were identified for this year’s hunts:

  1. A hunt that would be safe for the hunters, managers, neighbors and non-hunting users of the Forest;
  2. Demonstrate that deer herd management can be conducted responsibly;
  3. Increase oak regeneration and improve forest health, and
  4. Harvest 15 deer per day.

The Forest was split into compartments (see appendix, Item 2) with one or two stakes in each representing hunting locations. In total, 17 stakes were located more or less evenly spaced and near multiple deer sign or convergence of habitat types. Hunters would be permitted to place their tree stands within 50 yards of their stakes to give every hunter enough latitude to select what they believe to be a promising location, but also give us the ability to easily find a hunter should a problem occur.

Hunting was scheduled for three days – November 15th, 22nd, and December 13th. The Protocol, map and ballot were posted online in August and advertised to previous hunters and alternates, other hunt managers, the DGIF and in the Outdoor Report. Ballots were accepted through October 4, at which time hunters and alternates were randomly selected and notified. Seventeen hunters and 20 alternates were selected. All hunters and alternates were required to certify themselves, their shotguns and shot of choice at an approved range by October 24 (see appendix, Item 1). Lastly, the hunters and alternates were required to attend a pre-hunt meeting October 30 to review the Protocol and rules; assign hunting locations (stakes), and have the opportunity to ask questions. Anyone who failed to complete all of the steps for participation was not allowed to hunt.

On the three days of hunting, the Forest was closed to everyone except those hunting. 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 its 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) for their antlerless deer. Hunters were permitted to harvest antlered deer with 5 points or more on one side. Each hunter was to hunt from at least 15 feet off the ground in a self-climbing, elevated stand. Check in and checkout times were also used. At check in each morning, each hunter and alternate was required to show qualification card, qualified firearm, shot, licenses and a picture ID.

A day was also set aside (November 30) to host a hunt for the Wheelin’ Sportsmen organization. Qualification of hunters with their shotguns and shot was required this year. Due to limited interest, the hunt was cancelled.

Changes over the Years

After observing diminishing returns in deer harvested over four days for the last two years and decreasing hunter interest by the fourth day, the number of hunting days was reduced to three this year. In the 2008-2009 season, it was obvious that having 11 hunters at a time was insufficient and that more could be safely located in the Forest, so the number was increased to 17 for 2009 and 2010. The antler restrictions were also changed from “10 points or more” in 2008-2009 to “At least five points on one side” for 2009 and 2010 to eliminate confusion and make it easier to identify antlered deer permitted for harvest. After numerous antlered deer were harvested in the 2008-2009 season that did not meet the antler requirements, the penalty was changed from “disqualification for the remainder of the hunting season” to “disqualification for the remainder of the season, two additional seasons, and antlers will be confiscated” for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

The Results

Of the 37 hunters and alternates selected, 15 completed firearms qualifications and attended the safety meeting. All 15 were assigned stakes and allowed to hunt each day. Hunters who had participated in past years were contacted to get four additional participants for 2010 to bring the total number of hunters and alternates to 19. Hunting occurred as scheduled on the three days without any accidents or undersized bucks shot (six antlered deer were killed, but the antlers on all were shorter than the ears, and the hunters were not disqualified).

TABLE 1

2010 Conway-Robinson Deer Harvest Data

Day 1 (11/15/2010)

Number Male Female Weight Age # Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1 X   90 1.5 2 No A Spike
2 X   64 0 0 No E2 Button
3   X 78 2 0 No G  
4   X 45 0 0 No G  
5   X 49 0 0 No D2  
6 X   78 1.5 2 No D2 Spike
7 X   80 1.5 2 No D2 Spike
8   X 83 6 0 No D2  
9   X 79 2 0 No J  
10   X 51 0 0 No I2  
11   X 83 1.5 0 No B2  
12   X 87 1.5 0 No J  
13   X 82 2 0 No I2  
14   X 43 0 0 No J  
15   X 84 3 0 No J  
16   X 89 3 0 No D  
17   X 88 1.5 0 No B  
18 X   48 0 0 No D Button
19   X 69 1.5 0 No G2  

Day 1 (11/15/2010) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ # Vacant Stands
5 14 72 0 0

Day 2 (11/22/2010)

Number Male Female Weight Age # Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1   X 85 1.5 3 No D 2/3 height of ears, 5" spread
2   X 97 4 0 No B  
3   X 78 1.5 2 No E2 3/4 inch long spikes
4   X 90 2 0 No E2  
5   X 58 0 0 No E  
6   X 50 0 0 No I2  
7   X 92 5 0 No G  
8   X 94 10 0 No G  
9   X 105 3 0 No B2  
10   X 45 0 0 No B2  

Day 2 (11/22/2010) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ # Vacant Stands
2 8 79.4 0 5 to 7

Day 3 (12/13/2010)

Number Male Female Weight Age # Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
1 X   95 1.5 2 No B 2 points on 1 antler. Other broken
2 X   55 0 0 No B  
3 X   60 0 0 No B2  

Day 3 (12/13/2010) - Stats

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ # Vacant Stands
3 0 70 0 8

Wheelin’ Sportsmen (11/30/2010) CANCELLED

Number Male Female Weight Age Number of Points Hntr DQ? Stand Comments
                 

Wheelin’ Sportsmen (11/30/2010) - Stats:

Males Females Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ # Vacant Stands
1 1 44 0 0

Overall Hunt Stats

Males Females Antlered Antlerless Avg. Age Avg. Wt. Hntrs. DQ Comments
10 22 (69%) 6 26 (81%) 2 74 0 -

Number by Compartment

Stand 2008-09 2009 2010
A 6 1 1
B 1 7 4
B2 - 0 4
C 6 3 0
D 1 2 3
D2 - 1 4
E 6 0 1
E2 - 0 3
F 2 3 0
G 0 0 4
G2 - 9 1
H 0 3 0
H2 - 2 0
I 9 2 0
I2 - 2 3
J 1 0 4
K 3 2 0

Rank

Stand 2008-09 2009 2010
A 2 5 3
B 5 2 1
B2 - 6 1
C 2 3 4
D 6 4 2
D2 - 5 1
E 2 6 3
E2 - 6 2
F 4 3 4
G 7 6 1
G2 - 1 3
H 7 3 4
H2 - 4 4
I 1 4 4
I2 - 4 2
J 6 6 1
K 3 4 4

Conclusion

Two of the goals were met; one is in process but showing promise, and one was missed. No injuries of any kind occurred during the hunts to anyone involved. We received no complaints about this year’s hunting. By successfully completing a third year of hunting, we are demonstrating that deer herd management can be done responsibly. Increasing oak regeneration and improving forest health is a long-term goal, so significant results are not expected toward that end after just three years. Observations suggest there are more oak seedlings now than three years ago, and there are taller oak seedlings than before hunting started. We did not harvest an average of 15 deer per day. The harvest trend remained that considerably fewer deer are harvested on the last day than the first.

Thirty-two deer were harvested in 2010, as compared with 37 in 2009 and 35 in 2008-09. When considering that there were three days of hunting in 2010; five in 2009, and four in 2008-09, it seems the total harvest has remained fairly constant. Eighty-one percent of deer harvested in 2010 were antlerless, which continues to be a high rate for hunts in this area, and 69% were female, which over time will have the desired impact on the population.

Poor turn-out from hunters (15 of 37 people coming to the pre-hunt meeting; eight empty stands on the third day of hunting) continued to frustrate us this year. Part of this was our fault – the pre-hunt meeting was scheduled on the morning of opening day of muzzleloader season, and many hunters decided to go muzzleloader hunting instead of the pre-hunt meeting. The dwindling numbers of hunters for later hunting days is another problem we will try to address next year. Ideas include:
-Making the last hunt day a Saturday so hunters don’t have to take a vacation day from work;
-Earn-a-buck policy where hunters who shot three or four antlerless deer the first two days of hunting can harvest any deer they want the final day;
-Reducing to two days of hunting, and
-Different hunters on each day.

Other general results of this program are that we now have a better understanding of deer herd management and can better relate the benefits of herd management to landowners. We have firsthand 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 continued an opportunity for recreational hunters in an urbanizing area with decreasing hunting acres.

Thank you to all who helped with this hunt, especially those from other agencies and work areas- Adam Downing (VCE); Brian Laposay (VOF); John Rohm and Joe Ferdinandsen (DGIF), and Erik Filep, Jim McGlone and Harold Fisher (VDOF).

Appendix