Virginia’s deer management program has been noted for both its simplicity and its success. Today, with the exception of several counties and on selected National Forest lands in western Virginia, the emphasis of Virginia’s deer management program has switched from establishing and expanding deer herds to controlling their growth. This change in management direction has resulted in liberal deer hunting regulations and an increased kill of antlerless deer.
The change in deer management direction that has taken place over the past three-plus decades from establishing and allowing deer herd expansion to controlling deer population growth has been based on the cultural carrying capacity (CCC). CCC is defined as the maximum number of deer that can coexist compatibly with humans. CCC is a function of the tolerance of humans to deer and the effects of deer. CCC can vary widely between and within communities. Development of CCC deer management objectives are subjective and involve a combination of social, economic, political, and biological perspectives. The CCC for deer generally occurs well below the biological carrying capacity.
Under optimum conditions, deer populations can nearly double in size annually. Lacking an external regulating factor (e.g., predators, hunting, etc.) deer populations will generally expand to the point where food resources are limiting. In unmanaged populations, the food supply typically controls deer numbers. This is the concept of biological carrying capacity (BCC). The BCC is the maximum number of deer that can be sustained over time. BCC is a function of the quality and quantity of habitat. It is not a function of deer. In most habitats in Virginia, deer populations exhibit density dependent population responses with deer condition and reproductive rates inversely related to deer density. As deer population density increases, herd condition and reproductive rates decline. Conversely, as deer population density decreases, herd health and reproductive rates improve.
A habitat’s BCC is not, however, a fixed number. Habitat carrying capacity changes seasonally and annually, with winter being the limiting season over most of Virginia. Deer herds that expand to the BCC are frequently, but inaccurately, called overpopulated.
Virginia does not currently have many significant widespread “overpopulated” deer herds. Although frequently cited as “overpopulated” by the press, most of Virginia’s deer herds are managed through hunting at moderate to low population densities, in fair to good physical condition well below the BCC. Virginia’s deer herd in many areas would be better described as “overabundant” or exceeding the CCC.
Tradition, management efficiency, and cost effectiveness necessitate the use of recreational deer hunting as Virginia’s primary deer population management strategy. Deer management in Virginia is based on the fact that herd density and health are controlled by regulating antlerless deer kill levels. Under Virginia’s deer management, model antlerless kill pressure is typically managed by increasing or decreasing the number of either-sex deer hunting days during the general firearms deer season. Experience in Virginia has proven that deer hunting is a viable, cost-efficient management tool that not only maintains a healthy deer resource, but also diminishes deer crop damage levels, deer-vehicle collision rates, and deer-ecosystem impacts.
In Virginia, most deer population management objectives and regulations are generally set on a county basis. There are currently 97 major deer management units ranging in size from 85 to 970 square miles in area (average = 400 square miles). There are exceptions to the countywide management rule. Deer hunting regulations are established over large areas to be as simple and uniform as possible and to avoid confusion. To set regulations on this basis, however, is to assume that deer habitats, deer densities, and hunter pressures and public demands are similar over the entire area. Because these assumptions are not always true, regulations set over a large area will in some areas be too conservative and in some areas too liberal. To meet unique deer management circumstances in these areas, alternative site-specific deer management regulations and/or seasons (e.g., the special urban archery season) and deer management programs must be developed and implemented (e.g., DMAP, DCAP, out-of-season kill permits). This is where DCAP comes in.
What is DCAP?
DCAP is a site-specific deer damage management program that increases a landowner’s deer management options by allowing a more liberal kill of antlerless deer than could be obtained under the existing system of county regulations. DCAP was implemented by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources in 1988.
DCAP permit tags can only be used to kill antlerless deer (does and male fawns) and are not valid for antlered bucks. DCAP permit deer tags are valid only on the designated control area listed on the permit. DCAP permit deer tags are valid during all open deer seasons including the archery, muzzleloading, and general firearms seasons for the license year issued. DCAP permit deer tags can be used on any deer-hunting day, and landowners/lessees may use DCAP permits themselves and/or issue DCAP permits to hunters of their choice.
The primary objective of DCAP is to provide site-specific assistance in the control of crop depredation by deer or other property damage. Secondary objectives are to maximize hunter participation in the control effort and to shift closed-season kill permit deer harvest(s) into the open deer season.
How do you get into DCAP?
DCAP is open to every landowner in the state at no charge. The Department does not, however, issue DCAP tags in those cities and counties that are full season either-sex during the archery, muzzleloading and the general firearms deer season on private lands. In these cities and counties, antlerless tags are already unlimited during all hunting seasons using the Department’s bonus deer permit system. Landowners are advised that local firearm and archery ordinances are in effect with DCAP. The local Conservation Police Officer should be able to advise landowners of these ordinances.
In order to participate in DCAP, a landowner must contact their local Conservation Police Officer when deer damage is occurring to their crops or personal property. To contact your local Conservation Police Officer, call the Department offices on the map below.