Healthy Whitetail Deer Herd

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Information gathered from deer check stations this past season indicate Vermont's Whitetail herd is healthy and productive. Data gathered by Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department biologists from deer harvested in the 2001 season indicate healthy buck-doe ratios, good body weights, and promising antler development - - indicating adequate nutrition for the herd.

"It had been feared that the harsh winter of 2001 not only reduced the size of the herd, but also might have weakened those deer that made it through the season. If the herd were weakened, it would be more vulnerable to future harsh winters and its reproductive capacity could be reduced," said John Buck, Deer Team Leader. "However, the deer biological data gathered at check stations indicate the condition of the herd is basically sound."

Fish and wildlife biologists analyzed data gathered from 1,200 Whitetail -- 800 bucks and 400 does. Doe data was gathered through hunter supplied information. Key factors considered in determining the health of the herd are age structure, ratio of bucks to does, and body development.

Through examining the teeth of bucks harvested, biologists recorded a normal proportion of yearlings taken. Approximately 55 percent of the 800 bucks examined were 1 ½ years old. The remaining bucks harvested ranged in age from 2 ½ years to 5 ½ years old.

"This suggests we may not have lost as many young deer to the winter as we thought," explained Buck. "Going into this year's birthing season, the mix of adult and young deer numbers should adequately allow for a normal number of fawn births."

Health indictors for does are still being evaluated. However, past deer station data have shown that the doe age breakdown closely mirrors what is seen in the buck data.

Information gathered from both deer stations and road kill data indicates growth in the number of does to each buck. Hunting season data indicate a three does to one buck ratio - - up slightly from ratios recorded in the past five years.

"This slight increase indicates the herd has a strong capability to grow, provided weather conditions remain favorable," said Buck.

Body development measures include weight and antler development. Biologists found body weight to be above average and antler development growth at healthy proportions. The average body weight for a completely dressed 1 ½ year old buck was 114.7 pounds - - 1.5 pounds heavier than the five-year average. Measurements made of harvested yearling bucks' antlers at one inch above the base averaged 16.2 millimeters.

"When an antler of a yearling buck measures 16 millimeters or greater, that indicates the buck has been getting adequate nutrition for good health and development," Buck said.

The fish and wildlife department will conduct a series of public meetings in March to receive feedback that will be considered in setting permit numbers for the fall antlerless season. Buck believes the department will issue fewer antlerless permits in 2002. He emphasized that the department wants to be conservative in the number of permits issued to allow the herd to rebound at a manageable pace from last winter's harsh conditions.

"We share people's concerns about the health of the deer herd and want to do all we can to protect this invaluable resource," said Ron Regan, Fish and Wildlife Department Commissioner. "I hope people will take advantage of the upcoming deer meetings to share with us their views about the herd."