Good or Bad Deer Hunting? It Depends Who You Ask!

Front Page / Dec. 16, 2010 12:53pm EST

By M. D. Drysdale

What sort of deer hunting season was 2010 for Vermont hunters?

Depends who you talk to.

Reports from deer reporting stations in the White River Valley ranged from “a little better” than last year to “down 40%.”

At Fish & Wildlife headquarters in Waterbury, unofficial reports so far look good, according to Shawn Haskell, the department’s deer project leader.

“It’s still to early to say,” he cautioned in a report to The Herald this week. “But it’s looking pretty good—up a bit in archery and rifle season, but a lot of mixed results.”

The results weren’t “mixed” for Forrest Griffin at Mid-State Sports in Randolph. His total numbers were down from 36 last year to 20 this year. The rifle season was about level, but both the bow season and the muzzle-loading season were off sharply—just five in the muzzle-loading season compared to 15 last year.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who come in and say they haven’t even seen one,” Griffin told The Herald.

“Some years they can just be hard to find in certain places,” F&W’s Haskell agreed. “Some have said they’re having a hard time finding deer, then find 10 in a group.” But overall, he insisted, the deer kill is “pretty much in line with last year—which was a good year.”

The length of the deer hunting season has expanded considerably over the last decade or so. Rifle season used to be pretty much what was called “Deer Season,” but no more. Now of the 15,000-plus deer harvested last year, only about 6000 were taken in the rifle season, Haskell said.

Some 4500 were taken in the muzzle-load season, which spans two weeks after the rifle season ends, and 3000 were shot by archers. The new Youth Hunting weekend has added about 1700 to the total.

The muzzle-loading season, in which hunters are restricted to guns that must be reloaded after each shot, is particularly growing in popularity. Gene Booska at the Snowsville General Store had a ready answer for those increasing numbers.

“That’s because they’re shooting doe,” he commented. And indeed, doe do comprise a significant percentage of that part of the harvest.

Not all muzzle-loaders are shooting doe, however. A report from The Hardware at Rochester mentioned that Mike Heist of Hancock tracked his quarry for miles before bringing down a 188-pound, 12-point buck.

Heavier, Bigger Horns

Even when the number of deer was down, the hunting stations this year reported that deer size is excellent and the horn size is growing noticeably.

Credit for that is given to a 2005 change in regulations that outlawed the taking of spikehorn buck during rifle season. At first controversial, that change has been welcomed by hunters.

Five years ago, just 35% of the harvested buck were 2.5 years or older. Now the ratio is about 50-50, which is what the Department expected to see, Haskell said.

“It’s worked—we have an older age structure in the buck population,” he explained. In the extra year, a buck can be expected to add 25-30 pounds.

However, he termed the spike horn rule “an experiment.” He said that the Department now believes it is more important to manage the health of the female population than to focus exclusively on the size of bucks.

That older population of bucks leave signs in the woods that hunters love to see, he noted.

“All over the state, hunters are reporting more signs of rut in the woods,” he said. “When hunters see those signs, they know there’s a breeding buck around somewhere.”

Chelsea Numbers Down

That was apparently not much help to Chelsea hunters, as the take reported at Flanders Market was down almost 40%.

Numbers there were still substantial though, with 138 deer taken, including 18 during Youth Weekend, 28 during archery season, 59 during rifle seaso,n and 33 for the muzzle-loaders.

At the North Tunbridge Store, a lower take was also reported—though with definitely bigger horns.

At Locust Creek, by contrast, the count was up dramatically—about 85 during rifle season, or 20 more than last year.

Still, the general consensus is “that they are not seeing many deer out there,” said Locust Creek’s Don Stewart.

And at the Midway Station in Sharon, this year’s rifle take was up a bit from 55 last year to 59 this year. Only 30 deer were taken by muzzle-loader, however, compared to 47 last year.

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