By Zoë Newmarco
Proposed changes to the state’s deer and moose hunting seasons seek to draw new hunters to the sport and keep the deer population steady or slightly lower than current levels. The first public hearing on the possible changes will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 25, at the Rutland High School.
Nick Fortin, a deer biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, explained that over the last 30 or so years many of the state’s hunters have “aged out” of hunting, and he expects that trajectory will continue for the next several years.
“It’s the same demographic issue that the state of Vermont is having— most of our population is in that older group and at some point they just can’t physically hunt anymore.” Another factor precipitating the changes, explained Fortin, is that Vermont forests can’t support a growing deer population at this time. This is evidenced by deer that on average weigh less and have smaller racks than in previous years, according to Fortin.
The proposed changes to deer season, which would go into effect in 2020, he said, include lowering the buck harvesting limit from two to one per hunter, per year, extending the archery season, establishing expanded archery zones, allowing new adult hunters to hunt during youth season, creating an “antlerless” season, and limiting the annual bag limit to four deer.
Fortin noted that the deer concentration is much higher in some parts of the state than others. In Orange and Windsor counties, he noted, the population is biggest along the Connecticut River, and dwindles further west.
That dispersal of the population, he noted, will likely be most impacted by the archery season, because people who hunt with bows tend to head to places with more deer, he said.
Those places, he added, are the most negatively impacted by deer, who feed on new growth in the forests, inhibiting forest regeneration, and negatively impacting habitat for deer, moose, and other wildlife.
Fortin noted that this year, the department is proposing to have no moose season at all.
He pointed out that last year the state issued only 14 moose permits.
“We could issue a low number like that again,” said Fortin, “and it wouldn’t really impact them either way.”
But the department decided to recommend against a season for this year, to instead focus efforts on changing department rules and state statutes that influence who can receive permits, when only a low number are issued, he said.
Currently, he said, under state law five permits must be issued to veterans. Through a combination of statutes and department rules, several must go to the highest bidder, leaving only a few, if any, to go to lottery.
“The reality is that if we have a moose season in the future, it will be a really low number of permits again,” said Fortin. He hopes that changing the rules and laws will help the permits be more accessible to any hunter, rather than just specific groups.
He noted that the moose population has been declining, largely due to parasites carried by deer that only cause health issues for moose.
Braintree’s Tom Jacobs, who has been hunting since “before I could hold a gun,” said that overall he’s supportive of the proposed changes. He feels the state has been reluctant to make changes to hunting regulations, in order to avoid “stirring the pot.” He hopes the state will make changes that will create better hunting seasons overall.
Jacobs said getting the doe-to-buck ratio to be slightly more even than it has been in the past makes sense to him, but that he does have concerns about letting does be killed later in the year, when they are more likely to be pregnant.
Stuart Kinney, also of Braintree, has been hunting for more than 50 years. He said he’s concerned that the state issues too many permits, and will hurt the big game populations more than necessary.
“I know that sounds bad coming from a hunter,” said Kinney, “And I’m not against shooting does in those [more concentrated] area, but up on Braintree Hill–after this winter, we don’t need any more killed.”
Fortin acknowledged that this winter will take a significant toll on the deer population, and said that after the cold weather, he thinks deer numbers will be at a level the state should aim to sustain, rather than lower.
Fortin emphasized that people who weigh in on the proposed changes have a marked impact on what makes it past the F&W board. He noted that if people are unable to attend the hearings, they can still read about the changes and make comments online.
“We’re just trying to find something that works,” Fortin emphasized. “If hunters tell us they don’t like what we’ve proposed, we’ll find something else.”
The hearings will be held at multiple locations throughout the state from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m., some specifically on deer and some on both deer and moose.
The deer season hearings will include the first hearing in Rutland, a hearing at Mt. Anthony Union High School in Bennington, on April 1 and a third one at Riverside Middle School in Springfield on April 4.
The combined deer and moose season hearings will be held March 27, at Montpelier High School, March 28, at St. Alban’s Town Education Center, and Lake Region Union High School in Orleans on April 2.
More information, including the full deer and moose season proposals, is available online at vtfishandwildlife.com/node/100