Many hunters leave the woods empty-handed

ADDISON COUNTY — After a banner Addison County rifle deer season in 2010, the number of bucks killed during this November’s 16-day rifle season and weighed at local reporting stations plummeted.
In all, 329 bucks killed between Nov. 12 and 27 were weighed at the nine county reporting stations that shared results with the Independent, a drop of 99 from the 2010 count from the same stations. 2010 was the best season locally since the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife banned shooting antlerless bucks (known as “spikehorns”) in 2005.
Steve Ploof, owner of C&S Shooting Sports in East Middlebury, described the mood he saw during much of rifle season.
“The hunters are in here, and they’re ugly as hell because they’re not even seeing deer,” Ploof said.
There are almost as many theories offered for the drop-off as there were deer taken.
To start with, in an Oct. 16 press release, Fish and Wildlife officials estimated Vermont’s deer herd at 123,000, about 10 percent fewer animals than in 2010. They cited the harsh winter as one reason, particularly late snowstorms.
Ploof agreed winter was a factor, particularly the late snow when deer were already weakened at the end of the season.
“I think that storm last spring, the last one we got, really hurt us,” he said.
Many observers said November’s unseasonably warm weather meant deer stayed deeper in the woods because they did not have to forage for food; that habit made them harder to find. In turn, the difficulty of seeing deer meant fewer hunters took to the woods, and fewer hunters in the woods meant the deer were spurred to move less and were thus harder to spot.
“I think the number of hunters in the woods is down,” said Sherman Bennett, owner of Mid-State Shooting Sports in Ferrisburgh. “It’s a Catch-22.”
Bennett thought the slumping economy also meant hunters had less time to devote to their hobby, and that biology also played a role. Bucks are easier to kill once they get in rut and start acting less cautiously while chasing does, but Bennett said of the 11 deer he handled in rifle season, only one appeared to be in rut.
“The deer were in rut kind of late, too,” he said.
Bennett and Ploof both suggested stricter limits for hunters might help rebuild the herd.
Ploof had just returned from a hunting trip to Ohio, where he said bucks were plentiful. In Vermont now, hunters may take up to three deer and two bucks between archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons; Ploof suggested Vermont follow Ohio’s lead.
“I would like to see one buck, two deer,” he said.
Bennett would like to see the problem approached from the other side, by limiting the doe kill, especially in December’s bow and muzzleloader season.
“At that late date you know … a lot of them are pregnant,” he said. “They’re killing off next year’s (herd). I’d really like to see them go back to buck-only for a couple years.”
But Dick Phillips, owner of Vermont Field Sports of Middlebury, believes tweaking hunting rules isn’t the answer to what he called a long-range problem with deeper roots. He believes historical changes to the state’s working landscape, specifically the reduction in logging, has reduced deer habitat.
Deer are “edge animals,” Phillips said, who rely on browse, brush that grows up when taller trees are felled. 
“It wasn’t hunters that did that. It was winterkill … There’s no feed left in the woods because we’re not logging,” Phillips said. “You have no browse for January, February or March because we haven’t cut anything.”
Although this year’s rifle season deer kill dropped dramatically from 2010, it was still a higher number than the 301 bucks killed in 2009, which saw uncooperative weather during rifle season. The 2008 rifle season count stood at a more typical 388.
The local gold standard for rifle season, at least in recent memory, remains 2002, when hunters weighed 477 deer locally before the state’s spikehorn buck ban took effect.
In two of the past three years, local hunters have weighed more than 1,000 deer locally between bow, muzzleloader and rifle seasons and Youth Hunting Weekend: 1,026 in 2008 and 1,021 in 2010.
Even though this year’s Youth Hunting Weekend number jumped from 95 in each of the past two years to 110 this November, it is unlikely the local cumulative total will approach those figures in 2011.
Not only are the rifle numbers down, but Fish and Wildlife officials recently posted this on the department website: “Hunters are expected to take fewer deer in the muzzleloader season this year because the Fish and Wildlife Department issued 63 percent fewer antlerless deer permits due to the severity of last winter and herd reductions achieved in recent years.”
The Independentwill report all the bow and muzzleloader results and the final deer kill after the Dec. 3-11 bow and muzzleloader seasons conclude.
Despite the decline in numbers, the average weight of bucks killed in rifle season increased by 3.6 percent, from roughly 139 pounds in 2010 to 144 in November 2011.
The average weight in both 2008 and 2009 stood at 141 pounds.
Seven deer weighing more than 200 pounds brought up that average. The largest deer of the season was shot by Wayne Platt in Orwell, a 222-pounder with 6-points, compared to a 218-pound deer from last year.
Other hunters who were scrambling to find freezer space were:
•  David Hanson, who shot a 217.5-pound, 10-pointer in Shoreham.
•  Brent Newton, who killed a 210-pound, 7-point buck in Waltham.
•  Kevin Kayhart, who took a 208-pound, 7-pointer in Waltham.
•  Alfred Thompson, who brought down a 208-pound, 6-pointer in Starksboro.
•  Andre Palmer, who shot a 203-pound, 8-pointer in New Haven.
•  Chance Hall, who shot a 201-pound, 8-pointer in Benson and had it weighed at Buxton’s Store in Orwell.
•  Aaron Trombly, who killed a 202-pound, 7-point buck in Salisbury. 
Hunters who were successful in the final seven days of the rifle season were (listed by hunter, town of kill, pounds and points):
Adam Paquette, Shoreham, 136-3; Gary Grant, Bridport, 125-4; Christopher Lewis, Addison, 134-8; Patrick Blaise, Panton, 135-3; and Brendin Roberts, Shoreham, 169-7.
Gabe Cameron, Ripton, 183-10; Shawn Warner, Middlebury, 146-4; and Pete Laframboise, Cornwall, 95-10.
Douglas Yantz, Middlebury, 120-4; James Webb, Ripton, 142-4; Asa Sargent, Ripton, 138-6; Lee Saunders, New Haven, 138-4; Charles Rule, New Haven, 130-4; Kari Whitman, Ripton, 96-6; Lyle Webb Jr., Ripton, 118-5; Kenneth Leno, Salisbury, 143-6; Robert James, Weybridge, 105-6; Ambrose Cousino, Weybridge, 169-8; Robert Lafountaine, Addison, 122-4; Jason Miner, Goshen, 112-4; Eric Baker, New Haven, 138-5; and Aaron Miner, Brandon, 135-3.
Evan Deckers, Huntington, 174-8; Eric Jennings, Ferrisburgh, 136-6; and Keith Addis, Bristol, 159-8.
Gerald Phillips, Sudbury, 121-4; Garrett Pepper, Orwell, 108-4; Tim Williams, Sudbury, 149-7; Dave Leonard, Shoreham, 124-4; Stephen Myrick, Bridport, 141-4; Wright Myrick, Bridport, 107-4; Stephen Blodgett, Shoreham, 160-8; Jake Durkee, Orwell, 165-4; Kevin Cummings, West Haven, 141-4; and Duane Kehoe, Shoreham, 153-3.
Also, Jason D’Avignon, Orwell, 167-6; Dennis Cummings, Orwell, 139-3; Chris Micklaw, Leicester, 140-4; Tim Paquette, Shoreham, 144-3; Wayne Visser, New Haven, 134-5; Glen Tenzer, Shoreham, 140-5; and Nick Parent, Orwell, 156-8.
Crystal Merrick, Lincoln, 96-4; David Jerome, Bristol, 134-3; Thomas Kilbourn, New Haven, 148-5; Mark Tierney, Lincoln, 168-8; Tyler Pelland, Lincoln, 188-10; Aaron Thomas, Lincoln, 124-6; Alan Bessette, Ferrisburgh, 129-6; Erik Mayer, Starksboro, 162-6; Thomas Charnley, Monkton, 162-8; Eric Gracie, Lincoln, 171-8; Thomas Millette, Lincoln, 126-6; and Brendan Moore, Bristol, 159-8.
Adam Companion, Lincoln, 152-8; Justin Donnelly, Ferrisburgh, 105-4; Francis Warner, Waltham, 158-8; Taylor Bessette, Monkton, 145-6; Scott Graham, Monkton, 133-3; Rick Putnam, Bristol, 157-6; Daniel Stein, Ferrisburgh, 133-3; Jeffrey Hoag, Starksboro, 155-8; and Daniel Briggs, New Haven, 180-5.
Also, David Lathrop, New Haven, 120-5; Roger Currier, Weybridge, 122-5; Chad Perlee, Bristol, 140-7; Thomas Crilly, Lincoln, 160-7; Brian Novak, Middlebury, 120-4; Daniel Kirby, Bristol, 153-8; Kurt Mishkit, Ferrisburgh, 120-3; John Vandrier, New Haven, 124-3; and Jason Sabourin, Ferrisburgh, 115-4.
Eli Cyr, Panton, 174-6, and Roland Ayer, Ferrisburgh, 126-3.
Scott Brace, Addison, 123-3; Tim Ballard, Hinesburg, 146-5; Matthew Leonard, Ferrisburgh, 135-8; and Michael Lucier, Ferrisburgh, 115-7.
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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