Virginia’s deer management program has been noted for both its simplicity and its success. Today, with the exception of several counties in far southwestern Virginia 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 two 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 99 county management units ranging in size from 26 to 1,112 square miles in area (average = 401 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 season (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 DMAP comes in.
What is DMAP?
DMAP is a site-specific deer management program that increases a landowner’s or hunt club’s management options by allowing a more liberal kill of antlerless deer than could be obtained under the current system of county either-sex deer hunting day regulations. DMAP> was implemented by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources in 1988.
DMAP tags can only be used to kill antlerless deer (does and male fawns) and are not valid for antlered bucks. The primary goal of DMAP is to allow landowners and hunt clubs to work together on a local level to manage their deer herds. Secondary objectives are to increase the Department’s biological deer database and to improve communication between deer hunters, landowners, and the Department.
DMAP is an open-ended goal oriented deer management program. It is a cooperative effort. Landowners and hunt clubs set their own deer management goals and collect biological data on the deer they kill. In turn, a wildlife biologist from the Department will analyze the data and provide the cooperator with the information necessary to make informed decisions about deer management issues. This one-on-one relationship, stressing communication and cooperation, makes DMAP a flexible and effective deer management program. Both parties can benefit. The Department receives important biological data on deer herds across the Commonwealth, while the cooperator learns more about their deer herd and deer management issues.
As noted above, DMAP is designed to meet the stated deer management objective of the club/property. Most cooperators in DMAP are in some type of quality deer management (QDM) program where aggressive doe kills are combined with rules protecting young antlered bucks. Because of this, many people think of DMAP as only a QDM program. It can be, but it is much more flexible. The Department also has cooperators in DMAP, primarily in agricultural areas, whose stated objective is to reduce deer densities as low as they possibly can. In several of these areas, DMAP has been very successful.
As was noted in the introduction above, in most habitats in Virginia, deer populations exhibit density dependent population responses with deer condition 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. For this reason, unless habitat is improved, “more and bigger deer” is not a legitimate deer management option or objective.
How do you get into DMAP?
>DMAP is open to every club or landowner in the state at no charge. There is no acreage minimum. New applicants are required to furnish a written statement of their deer management objective(s).
Approval of the application shall be at the discretion of the Department of Wildlife Resources. All new first year cooperators are required to meet personally with their Wildlife Biologist prior to their first season in DMAP. Also all new program participants must also collect biological deer kill data (weights, jawbones, date of kill, etc.) for one hunting season prior to becoming eligible for DMAP tags or being issued check station materials. First year cooperators who fail to collect and submit kill data will be dropped from DMAP. Also, participation in DMAP does not necessarily guarantee that DMAP permits/tags will be issued.
Fill out the application attached below completely and mail it in to DMAP, 1132 Thomas Jefferson Road, Forest, VA 24551. Remember to include a map and a written statement of your deer management objective(s). Incomplete applications will be returned. The deadline for new applications is September 15. Applications received after September 15 will be held and processed the next year.
A high quality photocopy or copies (8-1/2 by 11 inches) of a USDI geological survey map (topographic), aerial photo, tax office property map, ASCS map, SCS map, or timber company tract map will suffice. The map scale should be indicated. All property boundaries must be clearly marked. If more than one tract of land is involved, delineate the boundaries of each tract or lease separately and identify each property on the map.
If the DMAP application is received prior to the deadline, the cooperator will be contacted by your local Wildlife Biologist. All new first year cooperators are required to meet personally with their Wildlife Biologist prior to their first season in DMAP. Additionally, all new program participants must collect biological deer harvest data (weights, jawbones, date of kill, etc.) for one hunting season prior to becoming eligible for DMAP tags or being issued check station materials.
Please keep in mind that DMAP cooperators face serious responsibilities. These responsibilities include good sportsmanship, compliance with game laws and DMAP regulations, and 100% cooperation with local game wardens and biologists. On behalf of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in DMAP. We look forward to working with you in the future.
How do I get more information on DMAP?
Below are several documents for persons wanting more information on DMAP:
- DMAP Application (PDF)
- DMAP Rules and Regulations (PDF)
- DMAP Biologist Contact Information and Map (PDF)
If you have any questions or need any additional information, please contact the DMAP biologist for your area shown on the map linked above.