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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Big-buck numbers reflect effort’s success

The number of massive-antlered white-tailed deer has grown by 400 percent over the last 30 years.

While many different methods of scoring the quality the quality of antlered trophies have been developed, the Boone & Crockett system developed in 1906 remains the well-recognized standard. Today, many wildlife managers and biologists can use the evaluation to assess the success of management and conservation efforts in terms of mature, quality bucks.

For the period 1980–85, hunters entered 617 trophy whitetails into Boone and Crockett records. The total entered during the 2005–10 period soared to 3,090.

“It’s worth remembering where America’s favorite big-game species stood not so long ago—at the brink of extinction,” said Ben Wallace, club president, in a recent media release that illustrated the trophy trend.

“In 1900, less than 500,000 whitetails remained,” Wallace continued. “But habitat programs, research, science-based management, regulations and enforcement, all led and funded by hunters, brought this game animal back to extraordinary levels. Today there are more than 32 million whitetails!”

Wisconsin was the No. 1 state in the latest rankings, with 383 entries in 2005–10. Wisconsin was ranked third in the 1980–85 timeframe, but had only 40 entries. Minnesota, ranked No. 1 30 years ago, fell to the ninth position.

Virginia, surprisingly (to me, anyway), fell to 27th on the list, down from 22nd 30 years ago. Virginia had 17 trophy bucks recorded in 2005–10. The bucks sure look good at the big-game contests I visit, but apparently other states are growing them bigger, faster!

Pennsylvania, Ohio and Ontario all showed big jumps in the latest rankings. Perennial big-buck destination Illinois, the second-ranked state, saw an 896 percent increase in trophy bucks.

BASS STOCKING

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announced last week it will begin a three-year largemouth bass stocking project in Back Bay in late May.

Approximately 75,000 surplus largemouth bass fingerlings were experimentally stocked in 2009. Sampling results since then were good enough to justify large-scale stocking in an attempt to restore that largemouth bass fishery.

The DGIF announcement indicates that approximately 125,000 fingerling (1- to 2-inch-long) largemouth bass will be stocked in Back Bay this year. These bass are called “F-1 hybrids,” a cross between the northern strain of largemouth bass and the Florida strain of largemouth bass.

As is common practice, these fish will be chemically marked to facilitate the tracking of their movement, survival and distribution within the bay.

The DGIF announcement explained that Back Bay was a top trophy bass fishery in the 1970s, peaking in 1980 when 240 8-pound or bigger, citation-sized largemouth bass were reported caught in the bay. Habitat degradation contributed to the fishery’s demise, but it has rebounded with a “tremendous recovery in terms of water quality and the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation.”

A local group of anglers is interested in seeing if the Rappahannock River can be similarly restored to its previous largemouth grandeur. A meeting is scheduled March 13 at the Gander Mountain store on Route 3 in Spotsylvania to discuss what electrofishing surveys have revealed in recent years and what potential exists for stocking operations.

SUNDAY HUNTING

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee was scheduled to discuss last night a bill that would enable Sunday hunting. Last Thursday, Sen. Ralph Northam’s bill (SB 464) to allow Sunday hunting on private land advanced by an 29–11 vote from the full Senate.

Sens. Bryce Reeves and Jill Holtzman Vogel voted for the bill, while Sens. Ryan McDougle and Richard Stuart voted against it.

Sunday-hunting proponents believe legislation originating in the House of Delegates will have a tougher time, mainly due to concerns that the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee membership is perennially stacked against the issue.

Still, Northam’s successful bill in the Senate will move to the House of Delegates during the “crossover,” and will have to be entertained during conference committee discussions. It’s a long way from over, and elected delegates need to know where constituents stand.

DEBUTANTE HUNTERS

A short 13-minute documentary film about a group of female hunters in South Carolina received the inaugural Short Film Audience Award presented by Yahoo at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, this week.

“Debutante Hunters” tells the story of the women and why they hunt. It was directed by Maria White and can be viewed at screen.yahoo.com/debutante-hunters-27874990.html. It competed against eight other films.

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

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