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Ken Perrotte’s outdoors column: So far, a solid start to year’s deer harvest

DEER HUNTERS annually try to guess when whitetail rutting season will begin.

The optimum time to get a mature, trophy buck is in the pre-rut phase. Does aren’t ready to breed, but bucks are in the mood and chase them extensively all day.

Field reports indicate the first two weeks of November saw some banner deer hunting days. Bowhunter Jason Phipps will long remember Nov. 14, the day he arrowed two nice eight-point bucks within 30 minutes of each other while hunting from the same stand near Hartwood in Stafford County.

Neither deer seemed to be rutting exceptionally hard, Phipps said, but both responded within five minutes to a grunt call, with the first whitetail falling at 7:45 a.m. and the other at 8:15.

Mike Silver of Silver Ridge Farm, a popular deer processing operation, sent photos of Felix Lopez and the hefty 12-pointer Lopez killed near Geico in Stafford.

In the Tidewater area, fishing captain Jorj Head and his family and friends have been on a big buck spree. His 9-year-old son Hayden took his first deer, a button buck, on the youth hunting day and then used a crossbow to take an exceptionally nice eight-pointer the second week in November.

RUT ’N’ ROLL

We checked with numerous deer hunting sources to see how this season was going and when hunters saw the most rutting activity.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Deer Program Manager Matt Knox said more than 19,000 deer were checked in electronically over the three-day Thanksgiving holiday period. Overall, the reported deer kill is up slightly and deer are in good condition.

“Last year I saw and got numerous reports of mulligan bucks—yearling bucks with very small antlers [less than 1 inch long]. This year,

I have not seen or gotten a single mulligan buck call,” Knox said.

He said he’s also getting reports of hunters seeing lots of fawns, which “bodes well for the buck kill in 2012 and 2013.”

Knox said rutting activity was high during early muzzleloading season, especially the second week, with several reports that this activity carried into the first week of firearms season.

Denny Quaiff, Virginia Deer Hunters Association executive director, said he talked with hunters throughout eastern Virginia and got “mixed signals.”

“Some clubs seem to be having a difficult time and others are doing well,” Quaiff said.

Quaiff said a hunter reported taking a buck that green scored in the 160s Boone & Crockett while hunting in Chesterfield County’s Pocahontas State Park. He also saw a photo of a Mecklenburg County buck that scored 230-plus (inches) non-typical Boone & Crockett.

Quaiff hunts in western Amelia County, and he said his club is having a good season, taking five eight-pointers and 35 does to date.

“The rut activity seemed to take off the last week of archery and the first few days of muzzleloader. Then the action slowed down until the middle of last week when bucks were moving again,” Quaiff said.

Among local clubs, Tom Burke of Caroline’s Woodford Hunt Club said Nov. 5–12 was about as good as it gets for rutting bucks. Burke tagged out early in the muzzleloader season with three mature bucks.

Bruce Lee at Essex County’s Kinloch Farm said the peak of the chasing phase was the first week of early muzzleloader season. “I saw 43 deer from 3 to 5 p.m. the first Wednesday, Thursday was 28, Friday was 25 and Saturday about 15,” Lee said.

The second week saw numbers drop to five to 10 deer per hunt—still numbers many hunters would envy. Lee said some hunt clubs near the farm were reporting seeing fewer deer.

MILITARY DEER

The region’s two large military installations are reporting success.

Quantico’s Tim Stamps said hunters had taken 438 deer, 182 does and 256 bucks, through Saturday.

“At this time last year we had taken 482 deer. Results are actually pretty good considering many areas were rarely open to hunt until the Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day holidays,” he said.

Stamps said yearling bucks are averaging 82 pounds field dressed, which he terms “high for Quantico.” The biggest buck weighed 172 pounds field dressed. Stamps calls it “one of the larger deer I remember being taken here in recent history.”

Stamps labels it an average year for bucks with trophy-sized antlers. Quantico hunters indicated they thought the peak rut was the first week of November east of I–95 and that there has been no well-defined rut period west of I–95.

At Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline, 496 deer (194 does and 302 bucks), 11 turkeys and one bear have been taken as of Nov. 25.

“At this point last season, we had a harvest of 378 deer, eight turkeys and no bear,” said Ben Fulton, senior wildlife biologist.

Fulton agrees the first week of muzzleloader season saw peak rutting activity, explaining that many hunters reported bucks chasing does. Most of the 278 deer killed in that week alone were bucks. Deer sightings and the number killed dropped sharply the following week.

“This fall’s acorn crop is moderate, and that, combined with 2010’s outstanding oak mast crop, has the deer herd in good physical condition. All age class weights are heavier compared to recent years,” Fulton said.

The heaviest buck weighed 138 pounds. The average yearling buck weighed 75.5 pounds. One 13-pointer was registered, and a large number of “taxidermy worthy bucks” have been taken.

ROUND TWO

Quaiff explains: “The rut appears to be in the last phase, commonly called ‘lockdown’ or the breeding phase. It would appear that all of the good bucks have gone completely nocturnal when this happens, and many hunters become very frustrated.”

But, he added, “It’s my opinion that it’s not over yet. During the next week to 10 days, mature bucks will also become frustrated when searching for estrus does.

“Serious deer hunters who are willing to take on this tough hunting challenge may catch one of these old boys with his guard down. Take advantage of the time left and use it wisely.”

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e–mail at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

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