The tell-tale signs of deer hunting season are showing up all around us: the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler, faint splashes of color are beginning to dot neighborhood trees, and soon the smokey smells of lit fireplaces will fill the evening air, as hunters prepare venison stew with the remaining strips of last year's harvest, and get ready to fill the freezer with the bounty from this season's annual rite of autumn.
Such scenes are not just reserved for rural America. In fact, the areas in and around Ashburn and Loudoun County are rich in hunting heritage, and provide some amazing deer hunting opportunities. But, as the county's population continues to grow and urban sprawl chews up more of the once rural landscape, the intermingling of man and wildlife also pose some unique challenges for suburban outdoorsman.
These challenges should not deter those longing for a day in the woods in search of delicious and healthy deer meat. The Ashburn Outdoorsman provides you with some helpful hints for taking advantage of the local deer hunting opportunities in and around Loudoun County.
Lots of Deer
You don't need to be a wildlife biologist to realize there are a lot of deer in Loudoun County. Take a quick drive locally, and you're likely to see one or more deer milling about in fields, yards, and along the sides of roads. While this can be a beautiful sight, the local deer population has actually been determined to be too high. In some areas, deer densities now approach 100 deer per square mile--well over the natural carrying capacity of 20-25 per square mile.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) Deer Management Plan for 2006-2015 identified Loudoun as an area requiring a reduction in deer population, and hunting serves as the primary way in which the herd is managed. Loudoun routinely ranks as one of the top three counties in the state in total deer harvest. In 2010 alone, hunters brought home more than 5700 deer in Loudoun.
Long deer seasons and high bag limits
Part of the deer management plan for reducing deer populations in Loudoun County involves very generous deer seasons and bag limits. The Virginia archery season started statewide this past Saturday on October 1st, and is followed by the early muzzleloader season from Nov. 5 - 18, and the general firearms season from Nov. 19 - Jan. 7.
But did you know that Loudoun was one of just three counties that also offers early and late "antlerless only" archery seasons? The early season started on Sept. 3, and the late season runs from Jan. 9 - March 31. With a deer hunting season that runs from the beginning of September to the end of March, not having enough time should never be an excuse for not hunting in Loudoun.
Hunters with a valid license and big game tags are permitted to take as many as six deer per season in Virginia. Unlike other counties, there is no daily bag limit for hunters in Loudoun. However, the county is subject to the special "Earn a Buck" regulation. Before harvesting a second "antlered" deer, a hunter must harvest a doe or antlerless deer. This regulation is intended to help strike a balance between the number of bucks and does taken in particular areas. Thus, hunters in Loudoun can only harvest three antlered bucks per season.
Local hunters may be able to take even more antlerless deer through the VDGIF's "bonus deer permit" programs, which allow additional deer to be taken from particularly overcrowded lands.
Where to hunt
The biggest obstacle for local outdoorsman is finding a place to hunt. Unfortunately, there are no public lands regularly open to hunting in Loudoun County. Hunters must either hunt on public lands outside of the county, obtain permission to hunt on private property, or apply to take part in a managed hunt on public lands where the deer herd needs to be reduced.
A great tool for finding public hunting areas in Virginia is the "Find Game" feature of the VDGIF website. Find Game is a searchable Web-based map viewer that contains current information on areas open to the public for hunting in Virginia, such as Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), state parks, and military installations. A quick search for areas within 75 miles of Ashburn identified several options, such as the Conway-Robinson State Forest in Prince William County, the C.F. Phelps and Thompson WMAs, and military installations such as Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps base. Special restrictions and seasons apply to some of these areas, so be sure to check all local regulations before heading out.
If you want to stay in Loudoun, you'll have to get permission to hunt on private property. Obtaining permission to hunt on private land is not as daunting a task as you may think. Many people are happy to have responsible, safe, and ethical hunters come onto their land and harvest nuisance deer that may be damaging landscaping or crops. But how do you find such people? The best way to start is to let friends, family and co-workers know you're looking for a place to hunt, and ask if they know anyone with a suitable location for hunting. The next step may require some elbow grease. Get out and knock on some doors and don't be shy about trading work for permission to hunt. Maintaining land can be a daunting task for anyone, and volunteer help will often be rewarded with a permission slip come hunting season.
Don't be afraid to utilize social media to find areas to hunt either. It may seem strange to traditionalists to use things like Facebook and web forums to facilitate hunting, but for whatever drawbacks such modern amenities have on the natural world, they also help bring people together with shared interests. Just two summers ago, I used Facebook to reconnect with a friend from school who now lives in Alaska. Soon thereafter, we were on his boat fishing for halibut on Prince William Sound.
The county also has some clubs and organizations that bring together outdoor enthusiasts, such as the . Joining such an organization is a great way to meet other folks who are interested in hunting and may be able to help you find a place to get into the woods.
Lastly, Loudoun County occasionally offers managed hunts on public lands to reduce deer populations. This year, the county is holding lotteries for two hunts on the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. Additional information about these hunts can be found here.
Know your regulations
It is imperative that every hunter be fully aware of all of the rules and regulations for the area they choose to hunt. In addition to the general hunting regulations referenced above, Loudoun has many gun laws that limit when and where firearms can be used in the county. Loudoun also does not permit deer hunting with rifles, and Virginia is one of the few states in the country that does not permit hunting on Sundays.
Many hunters either don't know how to butcher their own deer, don't have a place to properly age and process their deer, or would rather pay a fee to have someone else do it. While there are not a ton of deer processing centers locally, there are some.
The most well-known in Loudoun County is Mark's Butcher Shop in Hamilton, VA. Owner Mark Leigh charges $75 to process a field-dressed deer, and charges $3 a pound for sausage and other specialty preparations. Leigh also supports Hunters for the Hungry, and will process deer donated to the program at no cost to the hunter. Mark's Butcher shop--open Monday - Saturday from 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.--can be found at 40095 Charles Town Pike, Hamilton, VA, and contacted at 540-454-4470.
Some other deer processing centers a little further away include near Quantico and the Springfield Butcher.
Hopefully this information will help you get started on the 2011 hunting season. But what did we miss? Know a good resource not listed above? Have a preferred deer processor we didn't list? Post your comments and help local hunters get ready for the season.