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Sports · October 6, 2017

Bow season for deer opens with sunrise Saturday

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Deer hunting season — in various forms — runs through Saturday, Jan. 6.
We depend on the public to be our eyes and ears. As the saying goes, ‘If you see something, say something.’
— Virginia Conservation Police Sgt. Owen Bullard
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Before dawn Saturday, hunters all over Fauquier County will climb into tree stands to await sunrise, the opening of bow season for deer.

Fauquier ranks among the state’s busiest places for deer hunting, which in different forms — including muzzleloader and rifle — runs through Saturday, Jan. 6.

Last season, hunters in Fauquier reported 4,385 kills to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. That ranked fifth among the commonwealth’s 95 counties.

Around noon Friday, anxious hunters packed the showroom at Hoffman Archery near New Baltimore.

Neil Stancil, who just moved back to Stafford County from Montana, visited Hoffman for help adjusting his bow and selecting the right arrows for the season’s opening.

“We’ve seen a bunch of rubs and broken tree branches,” Mr. Stancil said about telltale signs of increased buck activity as mating season begins. “There’s lots of acorns and walnuts.”

He expects a good season. But, hunting on comparatively-small parcels in the Virginia Piedmont represents a significant change from that he enjoyed on 320,000 acres with few fellow humans out West.

“You’ve gotta love the herd, the animals,” Mr. Stancil added. “It’s not about the kill. It’s about managing the population.”

In addition to nature’s bounty, he suggested that many farmers’ conversion from corn to soybeans has helped Virginia deer grow bigger and stronger.

Hunters take deer for sport, food and herd management — all of which the state game department encourages.

A licensed hunter can take as many as six deer during the three-month season, noted Sgt. Owen Bullard, who supervises Virginia Conservation Police in five counties, including Fauquier.

But, the state requires hunters to take antlerless deer — in a specific sequence — to earn their limit of six, Sgt. Bullard explained. The animals can reproduce quickly, often leading to overpopulation and an unhealthy herd.

“It’s buck, doe, buck, doe, doe, buck,” he said.

Conservation police have entered their busiest time of year, with a flurry of concurrent hunting, boating and fishing.

Several new laws take effect with this hunting season. Among them, “blaze pink” has become an acceptable color for hunter visibility. It also has become legal to sell “any legally processed products made from deer,” such as antlers and hides — but excluding meat, Sgt. Bullard said.

The officers, formerly know as game wardens, get dispatched “24/7” to reports of hunting and fishing violations.

“For us, it’s our most call-driven time of year,” he said. “Late September and October are when we’re gonna get calls spotlighting and hunting from the road” — both illegal. (Handicapped hunters with special approval can hunt from vehicles, however.)

To report potential game violations, citizens can call 800-237-5712.

But, complaints about trespassing and “slob hunting” seemed to have declined in Fauquier over the last couple of decades.

The county’s emergency dispatch center received only 12 calls about illegal hunting or fishing last year.

Statistics for the state game department’s calls in Fauquier were unavailable.

“We depend on the public to be our eyes and ears,” Sgt. Bullard said. “As the saying goes, ‘If you see something, say something’.”

Although conservation police have primary responsibility for enforcing the state’s game regulations, all law enforcement officers in Virginia have the authority to do so.

And, his agency remains stretched, Sgt. Bullard admitted. The state has budgeted for a sergeant and eight officers to cover Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, Madison and Green counties. But, four of those positions remain vacant because of difficulty in hiring officers, the sergeant said.

The Fauquier deer harvest set a record in 2003, when hunters reported 8,034 kills.

Partly because more aggressive harvests — especially on large farms whose owners get permits to take more deer — the herd has gotten a bit smaller and much healthier, according to most observers.

At Hoffman Archery, owner Farron Moss apologized for having little time to talk.

“We’re slammed,” Mr. Moss said. “Everybody waits until the last minute. I tell ’em, ‘You know, we’re open in April’.”
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