Vermont Deer Herd Growing

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The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department's 2008 recommendation for the harvest of antlerless deer and youth weekend deer season was presented to the Fish and Wildlife Board on April 9th. The proposal calls for a harvest of 7,662 antlerless deer through a combination of either-sex hunting during the split archery season, an either-sex youth weekend hunt, and through the use of 22,050 muzzleloader season antlerless permits. Typically, 80 percent of the antlerless harvest is adult does, so this amount would be less than 10 percent of the adult doe population.

All WMUs will be open to the taking of antlerless deer during the two-part archery season except WMUs D2 and E. Opening of WMUs I and L is designed to remove overabundant antlerless deer at the western edges of those WMUs. Two deer may be taken during archery season with two archery licenses. One legal buck may be taken anywhere in the state during archery season. In WMUs open to antlerless deer hunting, both deer during the archery season may be antlerless deer.

Youth deer weekend is recommended to be an either-sex season statewide. Bucks may have antlers of any size or shape during this season.

The 22,050 muzzleloader season antlerless permits are for 14 of the 24 WMUs, an increase of 11,000 permits from 2006. The permit increases are focused on WMUs with the highest deer densities and primarily west of the Green Mountains where winter severity was below average.

The increase in antlerless deer hunting permits is in response to growing deer numbers and is designed to keep the deer population in balance with its habitat. The total antlerless harvest with this proposal is estimated at 7,662 deer. Last year, 5,516 antlerless deer were taken by hunters.

Vermont's lead deer biologist, Dr. Shawn Haskell points out that Vermont's deer population has increased more than expected along the western side of the state and in the East-central region in WMUs H1, H2, J1 and J2. The deer herd seems to be healthier than it has been in the past 50 years. Thus, reproductive potential in the past few years has been explosive.

"If we send as many deer as we had last December into a severe winter next year, I would expect more of them to die than did this year," said Haskell. "We also don't want to severely damage winter habitat and lose our ability to support a healthy deer herd going into the future." Haskell says Vermont's deer have not only increased in number but also in size. Fawns taken in the 2007 hunting season weighed an average five pounds heavier than they did ten years ago.

He also reports that the antler regulation change that began in 2005 is contributing to more older bucks being in the population and increased hunter satisfaction. Population and harvest data suggest that twice as many bucks survived the 2007 harvest compared to any of the past ten years, and that about half of the bucks harvested in 2007 were two years-old.

The proposed 2008 season regulations include returning to the three-deer annual limit that existed prior to 2005 to allow more hunting opportunity. About 200-400 deer were taken by hunters who took three deer in those prior seasons. The chance to continue hunting after taking two deer, however, encourages hunters to get out more, especially during the December muzzleloader season for those hunters fortunate enough to draw an antlerless deer permit by lottery. It also encourages hunters to take a second deer earlier, either in archery or November rifle season. This improves the department's ability to manage deer. The definition of a "legal buck" remains unchanged as any white-tailed deer with at least one antler having two or more points one inch or longer.

The entire proposal, including a map showing the number of permits proposed in WMUs, is posted on the Fish & Wildlife Department's website "href=""> The Board voted to approve the proposal as recommended. As with all Board regulations, there will be two more votes at coming monthly meetings.

Antlerless permit applications should be available in late June or early July on Fish & Wildlife's website and at license agents. The deadline to apply will be August 22.