A look back on the 2006 Virginia deer hunting season
Virginia Outdoors - A Resource for Virginia Anglers and Hunters
Virginia Outdoors - 2006 Deer Hunting Season
by J. Burkholder

Most of our regular readers know that we first launched Virginia
Outdoors in the Spring of 2006, so this is our first hunting season
on-line.  Here are my thoughts and observations from the 2006 deer
hunting season.  Feel free to send your stories, pictures, and
observations from the 2006 Virginia deer hunting season to

Acorn Crop:
In my opinion, any talk of the 2006 hunting season has to start with the
acorn crop - a crop of historical proportions by all accounts.
 After a
couple of down years in most locales, the acorn crop was as good as it
gets in 2006.  I visited my hunting property in the days following tropical
storm Ernesto during September and found my oak stands littered with
freshly-fallen acorns.  Of course, this can be bad news for hunters in
the mountains since deer don't have to cover much distance to find
food and - perhaps more importantly - deer can feed in the security of
the forest instead of having to venture out into openings where they
are more vulnerable.  However, for hunters in more agricultural areas,
find an area with a good acorn crop and the deer will be there.  I hunt a
small, but productive, hardwood stand in the midst of large tracts of
pasture and planted pines in the northern piedmont region.  The forest
floor in places was like walking on marbles in October, and my deer
sightings were up 10-fold during early bow season compared to last
year when the mast crop was sparse and the deer focused on
agricultural food sources.  

I must say that my already-dense squirrel population seems to have
doubled in the last year.  I'm not sure that this is a good thing.  They
seem to have eaten and/or hidden most of the acorns by
mid-November, and their constant racket can become tiring while on
stand for hours.  I have had up to three squirrels at a time in the tree in
which I was hunting, and it has not been uncommon to watch 5+
squirrels ransack areas less than two acres.  

I have hunted my current property since 2003, so this was my fourth
season.  Turkeys have not been dependable on the property, but I
always have a number of sightings each year.  This year I hunted
several times each week from the opening of bow season until the first
Saturday of December without seeing or hearing a single bird.  I was
beginning to wonder if turkeys had vanished from the northern
piedmont, and I was the only one who had noticed.  Finally, on the
morning of Dec. 2, I had a flock of at least 10 birds wander past.  The
flock looked extremely healthy and included a couple of the largest
gobblers I have ever seen.  Returning to that location on Dec. 9, I
found a five acre area that had been heavily scratched by turkeys.  
During the remainder of the season, I heard a few birds but did not
actually see any.  Let's hope for good recruitment in 2007!  There are
still a few around, but my observations indicate that the numbers are
down significantly in my neck of the woods.

Mid-Day Buck Sightings:
I have been hunting in Virginia for around 20 years, and I saw more
bucks this year than I have ever before seen in a single season.  The
acorn crop had a lot to do with an increase in deer sightings of all
kinds, including bucks, during early bow season.  However, moving into
early muzzleloader and the first week of general firearms season, I
believe it was largely due to my remaining on stand for longer periods
of time.  As often as I have read and been told about the importance of
hunting all day during the rut, I am finally a true believer.  I killed a buck
during the first week of muzzleloader at 9:30 am, and I killed a second
buck on the opening day of general firearms at 2:45 pm.  In both cases,
the bucks were all alone, sneaking quietly through relatively heavy
cover during broad daylight.  I believe they were trolling for does during
mid-day.  So, my advice is to set up close to heavy cover and sit quietly
for long periods of time during the rut.  I have to admit that this cramps
my style a bit as we often have a schedule of hunt morning, fish
mid-day (at Lake Anna), and hunt evening.  We did follow this routine a
few days, which resulted in several evenings of our "redneck
surf-and-turf":  venison steaks and crappie fillets.  I have to admit that
these hunt-fish-hunt days are my absolute favorite days of the year.

When to Take a Kid Deer Hunting?:
I hate to open a can of worms here, but...
On a hunting discussion board that I frequent, a member posted a story
about his son's first deer - normally a cause for great celebration.  
However, his son is only seven years old and the story, in a nutshell, is
that as a deer approached, the child had trouble working the safety
and was unable to shoulder the gun due to his heavy clothes.  So, his
father worked the safety and instructed his son to pull the trigger.  One
pellet of the buckshot struck the running doe in the head and dropped
her.  The father and son were obviously pleased and the member
received a smattering of congratulations.  I am certainly in favor of
taking kids afield at every opportunity and passing on our outdoor
hobbies, but this story makes me a little uneasy.  The story had a
happy ending, but on some level it seems to me like our deer deserve
better than a seven year old shooting from the hip.  By the time my
father took me deer hunting, I was probably 11 or 12 years old and I
had a big pile of squirrel tails that attested to my having acquired basic
hunting and shooting skills.  I could hunt alone and navigate through
the woods independently with no worries about working a safety or
being able to properly shoulder and aim a high-powered firearm.  I shot
my first deer with a .270 (one that I purchased with my own money that I
had earned mowing lawns), dropped it in its tracks, and drug it back to
the truck to wait on my father.  I'll admit my father may have been a bit
conservative, but I'm not sure that an increasing number of stories of
seven and eight year old deer hunters is necessarily a good trend.  

I am not, by any measure, an accomplished bowhunter.  In fact, until
the last two years I typically continued fishing throughout October
because the weather was mild, the fishing was excellent, and my
hunting property was a long drive.  Having acquired hunting property
close to home, I tuned up my 12 year old bow two years ago and now I
make a point of hunting at least one time in each of my stands during
October just to make sure everything is in good order.  Bow season
was exceptional for me this year in terms of deer sightings, but I never
fired a shot because the situation was never "perfect".  I have since
talked to a friend who has a crossbow that is sighted in at 70 yards and
who killed a deer at 72 yards this past season.  Had I been so armed, I
would have killed the biggest buck of my career the second week of
bow season.  So, although I am motivated by the challenge of
improving my archery skills and harvesting deer the "old-fashioned
way", part of me thinks that it only makes sense to hunt with the most
lethal weapon that the law will allow.  Of course, the high price tag is a
deterrent, but this will be a big decision for me during the course of

Game Camera:
I had been putting off buying a game camera for the last few years
because each year the technology seemed to improve and the prices
came down slightly.  I was determined to wait until I was ready to buy a
unit with the invisible infrared flash to avoid the dreaded "flash and
dash" - especially because my hunting property is so small that I live in
constant fear of spooking deer.  However, the infrared cameras have
remained pricey and I know many camera owners who guarantee me
that the flash does not spook deer.  The evidence, of course, is
capturing repeated pictures of the same deer.  So, I broke down this
year and purchased a Stealth Cam model that is relatively inexpensive,
has a traditional flash, and a small built-in screen for viewing images on
the camera (an absolute requirement, in my opinion).  I only used the
camera for a few weeks late in the season when natural deer
movement had diminished significantly, but I found that on each hunting
trip the anticipation of checking the camera was almost as great as the
anticipation of the hunt itself.  Perhaps the newness will wear off, but for
now "game camera placement" has become almost a sport in itself for
me.  I am already looking forward to next summer when I can try to
catch some bucks in velvet and get an idea of what the 2007 season
may hold.  As you can tell from the pictures I placed on this page, the
trigger is a little slower than I would like, but I'm generally happy with the
camera.  Feel free to send in your Virginia game camera pictures -
perhaps I can start a page dedicated to the "sport of game camera" in
Virginia.  The season is open 24/7 all year long!  Send your pictures (of
deer or any other game) to

New Hunter for Life:
My dad and I hunt fairly seriously. As I mentioned earlier, I killed a buck
with my muzzleloader and one with my rifle, but my dad didn't kill
anything this year. He saw plenty, had one miss, and several other
close calls that just didn't out for a variety of reasons (fogged up scope,
etc.). Anyway, I have a co-worker whose cousin bought a farm last year
and invited him to hunt. Well, he'd never hunted in his life, but he
bought a license and borrowed his cousin's gun and went out a time or
two. I don't think he ever saw anything.  One Saturday late in the
season, my dad took his grandkids to the circus, so I invited my
co-worker to hunt with me. When our neighbors run their dogs, I like
having someone to help me cover my property. I gave him my shotgun
with buckshot and put him in a big permanent stand that my dad hunts
in about 90% of the time. The neighbors were slow getting started and I
was about half asleep in my stand at 0745 when all of a sudden my
newby co-worker starts shooting. Two quick shots, about 30 seconds
later a 3rd shot, and about 60 seconds later a 4th shot. Of course, I'm
dying to know what he's up to and I know he's down to his final shot and
the neighbors haven't even started running their dogs yet, so I ran by
the cabin and grabbed another box of buckshot and went out to his
stand. The first two shots had missed, but the 3rd and 4th shots had
dropped two does in their tracks about 30 yards from the stand.
Amazing. When I told my dad later that evening, I seriously thought he
was going to be sick.

Trespassing Cattle:
My hunting property lies in the midst of agricultural land in the northern
piedmont.  At least a few times each year, I arrive at the cabin and find
cattle grazing on my "lawn".  They drink from my rain barrel and quickly
make themselves at home.  I drive around to the neighbors' trying to
describe the lost livestock and find out to whom they may belong.  I
understand that these things happen, but one of my neighbors, in
particular, has fencing in obvious need of repair.  So, the question is
lost cattle etiquette - how long must I allow this to go on before I start
loading up cattle and taking them to a sale or just butchering one -
don't I deserve it for all of my trouble??  I suppose I'm just joking...

Thanks for reading the deer hunting page for 2006!  I hope you
enjoyed my ramblings.  Check back in the spring when I write about
what I learn when I have a professional Forest Stewardship Plan
prepared for my hunting property.  
My first game camera pictures!
(click to enlarge)
Copyright © 2009 Virginia Outdoors, LLC
Ruckersville, VA