Deer Hunting Changes Being Considered

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Three major changes in Vermont deer hunting rules are being discussed by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and Board.

Coming on the heels of four public hearings held by the board and before the department begins a series of five more hearings, the discussion reflects a desire to be responsive to the hunting public as well as what seems to be growing support for changes in Vermont deer hunting rules based on both sound science and public input.

The three changes being discussed are as follows:

1. An antler restriction designed to protect yearling bucks during hunting seasons would be used statewide, rather than in just three of 24 Wildlife Management Units as proposed earlier by the department, an action that garnered strong support at the four public hearings held in February.

2. Antlerless deer hunting permits, formerly issued only for the December muzzleloader season, would also be applied to archery deer hunting. This major change is designed to better control the number of does and fawns taken in hunting seasons. This also would allow more rapid herd growth in areas where habitat would support more deer.

3. The annual limit on number of deer allowed per hunter would be reduced from three to two, a compromise reflecting public input at the February hearings.

"The board and the department have been given a tremendous opportunity by the legislature to show that we can work together, using sound science provided by department wildlife biologists and public input gathered by the board," said Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Wayne Laroche.

The Vermont legislature has set deer hunting laws since 1897, but in 2004 it gave the Fish and Wildlife Board the power to change many of those rules in a move seen by many to better prioritize legislative work.

"We now have a chance to show that the board and the department can work together to manage one of Vermont's most important wildlife species, first, by law, based on what is right for the resource according to science, and secondly according to public input," said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board Chairman Rob Borowske. "Board members are citizens who care deeply about Vermont's wildlife resources and the people who enjoy them, and we are committed to working successfully with the department to achieve these goals."

Applying antlerless deer hunting permits to archery season is being proposed by wildlife managers in order to better control the number of does and fawns being removed from the herd in specific areas. In 2004, the number of antlerless deer taken in the statewide archery season was 2,503. The number of antlerless deer taken by unit-specific permit during the muzzleloader season was only 803.

"We need to be more precise about how we manage deer today," said Laroche. "Using antlerless deer permits in archery season will enable us to stimulate herd growth faster by reducing the number of antlerless deer killed in sections of the state that can support more deer, and we will be able to prescribe removal of deer where it needs to occur."

"The three changes being proposed are designed to retain as much hunting opportunity as possible between Vermont's archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons," added Laroche, "while at the same time greatly improving our ability to manage deer."

As deer hunting regulations are being updated, the Fish & Wildlife Department also has begun habitat improvement projects on many of its wildlife management areas.

"Practices such as timber cutting prescribed to stimulate browse growth, brush-hogging of old fields, wildlife plantings, and releasing apple trees are being applied according to plans designed to provide better habitat for deer and many other wildlife," said Director of Wildlife Dr. Craig McLaughlin. "Wildlife will benefit on these state-owned wildlife management areas, but the sites will also serve as models for private landowners who want to try similar projects on their land."

The board held its February hearings in Lyndonville, St. Albans, Rutland, and Springfield. The Fish & Wildlife Department has scheduled public deer hearings beginning at 7:00 p.m. as follows:

March 16 - St. Albans, Educational Center Cafeteria
March 22 - Barre, Spaulding High School Cafeteria
March 23 - Orleans, Lake Region Union High School Cafeteria
March 24 - Springfield, Springfield High School Cafeteria
March 30 - Bennington, Mt. Anthony Union High School Cafeteria

Fish and Wildlife Board members will meet with department personnel after these hearings before establishing a final proposed rule for changes in deer hunting regulations.