State proposes new deer hunting rules

VERMONT — The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking to overhaul Vermont’s deer hunting rules.
The department unveiled the proposed changes, which have been in the works since 2013, at the end of last month. Nick Fortin, deer project leader, said the aims of what he believes constitute the “most substantial one-time change” in the state’s deer hunting regulations are to better target deer population management by region and age.
While the number of hunters in Vermont has been on the decline for decades, no significant changes to hunting seasons aside from youth seasons have occurred since the 1980s. There are currently around 130,000 white-tailed deer in Vermont, according to the department.
Starting in 2005, hunters could not take bucks without at least two points on one antler. The intent was to allow more young bucks to grow older. But Fortin said the department had some concerns about what that selective hunting could be doing to the health of the deer population.
“We’re essentially taking our best animals out and leaving the runts,” he said.
To address that concern, the department has proposed the annual per hunter buck limit be reduced from two to one, while the antler point restriction be eliminated in parts of the state with “big tracts of forest,” said Fortin.
The department also proposes to make changes to archery season. The department originally proposed extending the season from early October through muzzleloader season, but now feels the season extension should be simplified from Oct. 1-Dec. 15, Fortin said. There would also be additional tags for “antlerless” deer, which are does and young bucks with antlers less than three inches, during archery season. Bow hunting during rifle season, which occurs in mid-November for deer, would still be off limits.
In certain parts of the state with higher deer populations, like the greater Burlington, Bennington and Barre-Montpelier areas, archery season would be extended by an additional two weeks.
“What we tend to have now more so than we had in the past is these pockets where we have too many deer,” said Fortin.
Kevin Lawrence, chair of the 14-member Fish and Wildlife Board that votes on fishing, hunting and trapping rules and helped with the proposal, said he thinks additional antlerless tags will also help address deer overpopulation concerns.
“The basic idea is you can shoot bucks all day long, but unless you control the reproducing females in the herd, that’s the only way you’re going to keep the population at a lower level where they’re not doing damage to the forest,” he said. “When I visit my friends in Connecticut and when I hunt in Pennsylvania, I see forests where too many deer have kind of ruined the understory.”
Other proposed changes include: eliminating the age restriction for crossbow hunting, establishing a novice season and establishing a new four-day antlerless season.
Lawrence said he feels the proposal provides a “menu of options” that will provide more opportunities for hunters over a longer period of time.
“If they want to be crossbow hunters, they can, but they don’t have to,” he said. “If they wanted to hunt in the snow, they can, if they wanted to hunt in the warm weather, they can.”
The proposed changes are up for comment and the department will hold public hearings around the state starting March 25. The board will not take final votes on the rules until summer, said Lawrence.
Hunters, landowners and anyone else interested in deer and moose should plan on attending one of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife public hearings being held this spring. The hearings will include results of Vermont’s 2018 deer hunting seasons and prospects for deer hunting next fall as well as an opportunity for people to comment. The first hearing on the proposed deer hunting rule changes will take place Monday, March 25, 6:30-9 p.m. at Rutland High School, 22 Stratton Road.

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