By COLIN MEYN
This year’s deer harvest in Vermont was the biggest on almost two decades, thanks to recent mild winters, lots of snow in November, and an abundance of muzzleloader permits.
That’s the word from Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials.
Vermont hunters killed 18,845 deer during the youth, archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons combined.
“The legal buck harvest of 9,993 was 8 percent more than the previous three-year average of 9,267, and the second highest buck harvest since 2002,” said deer project leader Nick Fortin. “Harvest numbers increased during the archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons. The muzzleloader harvest of 6,066 is an all-time record.”
Rifle season was still the most popular with 7,458 deer taken; hunters took 3,980 deer in archery season and the youth season total was 1,341, according to the state report.
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said his department issued an extraordinarily high number of permits for antlerless deer to keep Vermont’s deer herd in check.
“It was an extraordinarily good harvest for modern times in Vermont,” Porter said. “That came as a little bit of a surprise to us.”
The first weekend of rifle season, which is usually a solid indicator of the season ahead, was slower than usual, Porter said. But steady snowfall in the ensuing weeks encouraged hunting and made for good visibility on the landscape.
Perhaps the most important factor was the sheer number of deer in the wild, Porter added.
“The deer population in Vermont is largely set by the severity of our winters,” he said, and the recent mild winters are likely to become closer to the norm.
The deer population is typically thinned out by the winter kill, from cold and limited food, but climate change is making winters more hospitable, meaning more deer survive and create more deer.
“Long story short, I’d say that in an era of climate change, white-tailed deer are a species that does well in that scenario so we are changing management,” Porter said.
This year, that meant issuing more “antlerless” permits, allowing hunters to kill doe and “button bucks” with antlers shorter than one inch.
Using hunting for “population management” is part of the department’s strategy to prevent the deer herd from becoming too large and over-browsing the terrain, killing forest undergrowth and saplings that make for a healthy forest.
“The primary goal of Vermont’s deer management strategy is to keep the deer herd stable, healthy and in balance with available habitat,” the wildlife department said in a statement.
Wildlife officials also received more than 2,700 teeth from bucks taken during rifle season after encouraging hunters to send in teeth to collect biological information on the deer herd.
The state’s 2018 White-tailed Deer Harvest Report with final numbers will be on Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s website vtfishandwildlife.com in February.
The Citizen contributed to this report.