Hunters reported harvesting 167,249 whitetails in 2012, a drop of 6,304 3.6 percent from the 2011 season; it was the fourth-straight decline in the statewide harvest.
However, Evin Stanford, the Commission's lead deer biologist, isn't worried and said the harvest reduction shouldn't be viewed as a major concern.
"At the state level, (the total harvest) was not that far from last year," he said. "High levels of mortality were very localized in nature. If you look at the overall state decline, it wasn't that big, although one region did show an almost 20-percent drop."
District 7, which is comprised of 12 counties in the state's northwestern corner, had an 18.6-percent decline, the largest of any area.
"In District 7, the decline was driven by an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) that pretty much all the hunters up there knew about," Stanford said. "It was some of the highest levels ever observed in the foothill counties of Surry, Caldwell and Wilkes. But it had been some time since we had a substantial outbreak in that area, and there wasn't a lot of immunity in the herd."
Stanford said knowledge of the disease might have kept some District 7 hunters at home, further contributing to the region's harvest decline.
"Hunters were aware mortality had occurred, and there were some unfounded fears about consuming deer (with EHD)," he said.
EHD is a disease transmitted to deer by biting insects (midges). The disease, which blossoms periodically – usually after a dry summer and wet fall – causes high fever and lack of appetite in deer. After EHD, which isn't transferrable to humans, sweeps through a deer herd, the surviving members build up immunity to that strain, allowing the population to recover.
"It may take three to five years to rebuild the deer population to where it was," he said. "Right now, there's no reason to change the season structure or drop bag limits or anything like that."
Stanford said he had been expecting the harvest to level off for several years because do harvests have increased so much statewide.
"The doe harvest has really jumped the last five years or so, and many areas of state are approaching and exceeding a 50-percent doe harvests, so we've kind of been anticipating this to happen," he said.
In the northeastern corner of the state, the 13 counties in District 1 showed an 8-percent drop last season from 2011.
"We don't know what caused the drop in District 1," Stanford said. "I'll know more after I talk to the biologists about bad weather during key weekends and holidays. That's when we usually get more deer harvests, especially at Thanksgiving."
Southeastern District 4 had a reported decline of 7.3 percent. The foothills and mountain counties of District 8 had a 5.7-percent decline; District 5, the northern Piedmont, had a 2.7-percent drop, and south-central District 2 had a 1.1-percent decrease.
Only three Districts (3, 6 and 9) showed a harvest increase over 2011 levels. Oddly enough, the state's farthest western counties (District 9) showed the largest increase, 16.9 percent.
"In District 9, we traditionally have few deer taken, so all it takes is a few more deer to drive the numbers up," Stanford said. "But the deer herd generally has been growing slowly up there over the long term."
The state's two leading counties for total harvest continued to be Northampton and Halifax in the Roanoke River's "Peanut Belt." Hunters in Northampton County led with 5,189, with Halifax second with 5,048.