A look back on the 2008 Virginia deer hunting season
Virginia Outdoors - A Resource for Virginia Anglers and Hunters
Virginia Outdoors - 2008 Deer Hunting Season
by J. Burkholder
Posted January 9, 2009

Most of our regular readers know that we first launched Virginia
Outdoors in the Spring of 2006, so this is our third annual deer season
year in review.  As always, it's hard to believe that another year and
another season have passed.  Feel free to send your stories, pictures,
and observations from the 2008 Virginia deer hunting season to

Bow Season:
Like last year, I went hunting twice in bow season.  Unlike last year, I
had a much better excuse.  By midsummer, I had three work-related
trips planned out west for the month of October.  Two conferences in
Denver and some work at the University of Wyoming meant that my bow
hunting opportunities would be curtailed.  However, I took advantage of
that time for a few (successful) days of hunting the wide open country
of east-central Wyoming.  An article describing my experiences out
west is in the works.  

My two bow season outings were, in a NUTshell, encouraging.  Pun
intended, there were NUTS everywhere.  By the second half of
October, the forest floor of my diminutive hunting property was loaded
with acorns of all varieties.  Major news outlets, such as CNN and the
Washington Post, reported on pockets in the mid-Atlantic region,
including Northern Virginia, that were strangely devoid of acorns.  
Fortunately, I had no such problem.  A large crop, rivaling the historic
crop of 2006, and it was about two weeks later than the crop of 2006
meaning that it was peaking as October rolled over into November and
the start of muzzleloader season.  I saw numerous deer on both outings
in bow season, but never took a shot.  

Muzzleloader Season:
If I had to choose between hunting the two weeks of muzzleloader
season or hunting the bow and rifle seasons, I would choose
muzzleloader season and forego the rest.  Deer movement is at its
peak, the rut is beginning, the weather is cool and crisp, and the deer
are not yet completely spooked.  Unfortunately, a business trip caused
me to hunt only a few days of muzzleloader this year.  I hope that
doesn't happen again.  

My dad killed an eight pointer with a 16.5" inside spread at 0900 the
first morning of muzzleloader.  It was easily the nicest rack that we have
killed on our current hunting property.  That evening I had drawn a
bead on a spike right at dusk when a much larger deer suddenly
approached.  In the dim light (and having only open sights), I couldn't
see if it was even a buck or a doe, but I could tell that it would be a
much bigger box of meat than the spike.  I shot it and it turned out to be
a large-bodied buck with a sorry, malformed rack.  Luckily, although I'd
love to harvest a nice VA wallhanger someday, I'm not antler obsessed
like some folks and I was thrilled with the large animal.  We were
exhausted by the time we had dragged the animal back to the cabin.  

I hunt roughly 30 forested acres surrounded by a rolling mix of farmland
and planted pines.  It doesn't sound like much to most hunters and I
admit that I sometimes find myself envious of folks with expansive
hunting properties, dozens of stands, and a legitimate need for
four-wheelers and maps.  But the truth is...small properties sometimes
get a bad rap.  A hunter doesn't need a dozen stands - just one good
one is enough!  I have read so many articles that suggest only hunting
a particular stand once a week and trying to choose a stand based on
wind direction (I've never hunted in the wind when it didn't change
directions every two seconds) that are, in my opinion, hogwash.  The
key to seeing and killing deer, especially in the early season, is to
spend as much time as possible in the woods.  Spend all day long in a
productive feeding location or along a travel route.  That's all you can
do.  Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be and, more
importantly, don't feel like you need 1,000 acres littered with food plots
that require year 'round care in order to make whitetail hunting
worthwhile and productive.  

I basically hunted all of muzzleloader season in one stand.  It was a
waste of time in the mornings and unbelievably reliable in the evenings.
Like clockwork every afternoon a parade of does, fawns, and bucks
would wander into the area to gorge on acorns.  Most of the deer
walked to the stand along the same trail that I followed to get there.  
The only problem was how to exit my stand in the evenings without
spooking too many deer.  The best idea that I came up with was to use
a grunt call to get the deer to move far enough away that I could climb
down without them being certain of what had spooked them.  I passed
up too many shots to count on smallish bucks and other deer always
hoping that a trophy would show up in the waning moments of shooting
light, but it didn't happen.  What a joy though to watch those deer
feeding and playing, small bucks rubbing saplings, and fawns frolicking.
 I even saw my trail camera flash and take pictures of feeding deer at
dusk.  Trust me - the flash does
not spook deer.  Save your money and
skip the infrared flash trail cameras!

Early" Firearms Season:
Let me explain...Madison and Greene Counties share a unique rule
that hunting with dogs is not allowed for the first 12 days of the general
firearms season.  Thus, Madison and Greene really have three "gun"
seasons:  (1) muzzleloader, (2) general firearms without dogs, and (3)
general firearms with dogs.  How did Madison and Greene end up with
their own rule?  I have no idea, but I like it.  

The early season started with a bang for us.  It was a rainy, miserable
early morning of opening day.  My dad and I slept in and spent the first
hour of daylight drinking coffee and listening to the rain.  Finally, we got
a break in the weather and we headed out to our stands.  Mine is a
longer walk and I took my time sneaking along in the soggy leaves.  My
dad has a 50 yard walk to his stand and, within minutes of arriving, two
does strolled by.  Sure enough, right on cue five minutes later, a nice
five pointer trailed the does right by his stand.  About the time I got
settled in my stand, I heard the shot and soon thereafter dad was on
the radio calling for help dragging his deer up the side of the one steep
ridge on the property.  By the time we took care of his deer, it was
raining again and the rest of the day was a total washout.  

The rest of the "early" firearms season was much of the same.  Cold,
clear perfect mornings with very little deer activity followed by a rush to
the acorns every afternoon.  With a freezer full of meat, I continued to
pass on shots at smaller bucks virtually every afternoon that I hunted,
but I had trail camera evidence of shooter bucks in the area.  They just
became nocturnal early in the season.  

"Late" Firearms Season:
Our neighbors who hunt with dogs seemed to have a slightly smaller
crew this year and spent a few weekends hunting in the mountains near
Syria (quite successfully from the stories they told).  However, their
deer kill numbers in our neighborhood seemed to be down significantly.
My dad and I passed on a few unremarkable deer, but I did shoot one
nice doe in front of their dogs.  On the last day of the season, I
"dogged" for my dad and ran him one last deer for the freezer.  

I can say that one or two hard days of running dogs through the area
appears to clear out much of the deer population.  Even the nighttime
trail camera pictures stopped.  I had one deer picture between Dec 9
and Jan 3 compared to approximately 6-10 per day prior to our dog
season.  Daytime natural deer movement quickly shuts down.  

When is a Deer Hit?:
One quick comment on shooting at deer and judging whether or not it is
hit.  This question arose with a fellow hunter when I was in Wyoming in
October.  Many less experienced hunters (and, somewhat surprisingly
a few experienced ones) will shoot at a deer and when the deer darts
off in a sprint, seemingly startled but unhurt, assume that they missed.  
Sometimes a quick glance around is all that will occur before the
"search" is abandoned.  I can say, unequivocally, that if you shoot at a
deer that has not seen or smelled you and the shot misses cleanly,
even at close range, the most likely response of the deer is that it will
freeze (please don't ask how I know this!).  If you don't move and spook
it, it will eventually either resume its business or tiptoe away. Deer are
unable to tell where a shot came from, have no idea which way to run,
and have no idea what happened or that they should necessarily be
afraid.  Movement or unexpected human scent in the woods will send a
deer running, but not a clean miss.  If you shoot at an unsuspecting
deer and it immediately takes off in a full sprint, you hit it.  Perhaps not
fatally, but you hit it and stung it.  You owe the animal a complete and
thorough search.  With the deer at a full sprint, drops of blood may be
widely scattered, but keep up the search.  It's amazing how much
ground a severely hit deer may cover in 10 or 20 seconds at a full
sprint - leading a weak-minded hunter to abandon the search for a
deer that is mortally wounded and will soon be dead.  

See my
2006 hunting season recap and you'll see that turkey sightings
were few and far between.  See my
2007 hunting season recap and
you will see that turkeys were abundant last year.  This year reverted
back to 2006.  Very few sightings until the last two weeks of the season
when a few small flocks of turkeys arrived and started feeding regularly
on the property.  It is highly unlikely that the turkey population actually
fluctuates so drastically from one season to the next.  I already
mentioned my bumper acorn crop and I also noted a great beechnut
crop, so lack of food was not the issue.  Turkey sightings seem to
simply depend on random arrivals and departures of flocks of turkeys.  

Phantom Does in Earn-A-Buck Counties:
Early returns from telephone check-in numbers indicate a large deer kill
was underway this season, but upon closer inspection the increases
seem to be concentrated in the earn-a-buck counties.  As reported
here in the Roanoke Times, some members of the hunting community
wonder if some hunters simply phone in "phantom" does as necessary
to maintain their eligibility to shoot a second or third buck.  It's an
interesting question...one to which we may never know the answer.  My
best thought on how to garner the truth?  Check with local meat
processors in the earn-a-buck counties and, perhaps, the Hunters for
the Hungry in those areas.  If the doe kill numbers are really up in those
areas, perhaps the meat processors should have seen some of the
increase.  In Madison County, our preferred meat processor (Hidden
Pines Meat Processing) reported very similar numbers of deer and
bear in 2008 compared to 2007 (Madison County is not an earn-a-buck

Thanks for reading the whitetail deer hunting page for 2008!  It was
another excellent (though damp and cool!) year of whitetail hunting in
the Old Dominion.  How blessed we are to live in this golden age of
Virginia deer hunting!
Some of the author's favorite
game camera pictures from 2008
(click to enlarge)
Copyright © 2007 Virginia Outdoors, LLC
Ruckersville, VA
Look closely - the below picture is
of the underside of a deer jumping
an old fence