Comprehensive Deer Management Survey Initiated

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The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department will ask five-thousand Vermont hunters their opinions on antler restrictions in a survey being mailed out this week. The intent of the survey is to assess the opinion of resident hunters regarding possible changes to the deer seasons that would increase the number of two-and-a-half year old and older bucks in the annual deer harvest.

“The information we received from our public deer meetings this past spring indicated hunters were interested in having the department seriously explore changes that would allow more bucks to grow to an older age before they could be legally harvested,” explained Fish and Wildlife Department Commissioner Wayne Laroche. “We are calling such a change in our deer seasons, Comprehensive Deer Management. If we believe there is enough hunter interest, the department will propose some experimental changes to the deer seasons. Any experimental change will be monitored to see if the change meets both the biological needs of the herd and hunter satisfaction.”

Any experimental changes would require that the department designate proposed wildlife management units as experimental. Within the defined area, hunters would be limited on the size of the bucks that could be harvested through antler point restrictions designed to protect younger bucks. The restrictions would be in effect during archery, rifle and muzzleloader season. The department would likely issue additional antlerless permits within these zones. The restrictions would likely be proposed to be put in place for five years. After five years, the department would evaluate the results of these changes and determine success or failure. Hunter satisfaction will be key in determining success or failure.

“Of course, any change to our deer seasons would have to receive legislative approval,” said Laroche.

The department hopes to have the majority of the surveys returned by September 2. Based upon the results of that survey and other public input, the department will draft a Comprehensive Deer Management proposal.

Results tallied from the approximately 450 surveys returned to the department by hunters who attended the March deer meetings showed strong interest in a change. The meeting survey included questions that ranged from legal antler size for harvest to what makes a deer hunting experience special.

Hunters were asked whether the department should adopt a three points or greater antler description to restrict the number of young bucks that are harvested. Sixty percent of hunters favored such a change, while 40 percent favored leaving the legal antler size at three inches. When asked what qualities they valued most about their deer hunting experience, hunters ranked the following qualities by order of importance: 92 percent being in the woods; 78 percent seeing a deer; 71 percent being with friends; 32 percent harvesting a big buck; 27 percent harvesting a deer; and 26 percent harvesting a buck.

On the questions of deer baiting, 74 percent of respondents said they did not place food near their hunting stands to attract deer, while 26 percent did. While the department’s policy of discouraging winter deer feeding was supported by 62 percent of the respondents, hunters had mixed feelings about imposing a ban on the practice. Fifty-six percent of hunters favored implementing a regulation to ban artificial feeding of deer during the winter, while 44 percent opposed such a ban.

On September 13, the department will participate in a Whitetail Symposium at the Pavilion Building at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex, Vermont. The symposium is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will feature department presentations on Comprehensive Deer Management. A gun show also will be held at this time. The cost to attend both the show and the symposium is $7. The public is invited to attend and is urged to provide feedback to the department on deer management issues.