A big fish and some thoughts on deer hunting

Jim Kambour, left, hauled this lake trout out of Lake Willoughby on the last day of the ice fishing season. At right is Jason Goodwin who was fishing with him. The fish was 26 and a half pounds and 41 and a half inches long. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar 3-26-10

Did you see the big fish?  I had fun delivering the Chronicle last week with that giant lake trout on the front page.  I love that people think of us when they catch a great big fish and bring it to the office so we can take a picture to share with the world.

There is nothing like a great big fish or a deer meeting to get Vermonters excited.  Even when things are relatively good, 40 people show up at a meeting to talk about the deer herd.  Each has a pretty strong opinion and each has an idea of what should be done to keep the deer herd healthy.

It’s no wonder really because fresh venison or fish that you caught that day is food for more than your body.  It’s food for the spirit too.  A meal of fresh venison steak, potatoes from the garden, and fiddleheads is a meal to savor, a meal to remember.

You feel self-sufficient in a way that’s just far more satisfying than spending your paycheck on a package of hot dogs.

It’s almost time to start looking for those little fiddleheads.  Wild leeks will be popping up soon after that.  This weekend it’s supposed to be cold, but it does seem that this winter’s strength is about gone.  That is just fine with me.  The lack of snow means a bit less drastic mud season.  I’m okay with that too.

The deer seem to be getting through this mild winter really well.  Posted here is my story from Tuesday’s meeting.  The full report is available from the Fish and Wildlife Department and is full of interesting statistics if anyone wants more details.

You can find the full report at the department’s web site:

http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/

I’m starting to think the proposal to require hunters to wear bright orange is a bad idea.  What do you think?  How about the spike horn regulations?  Should they be changed?  Post a comment; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wildlife biologists want to keep deer herd healthy, the Chronicle, March 24, 2010

by Bethany M. Dunbar

“Our deer herd is as healthy now as it’s ever been,” said Shawn Haskell of the Fish and Wildlife Department at a meeting to talk about the whitetail deer herd at Lake Region Union High School on Tuesday evening.

A total of 15,237 deer were killed in all seasons last fall.  Rifle and archery season numbers were down 18 percent from 2008, but muzzleloader numbers were up 8 percent due to some better hunting weather by then.  During rifle season, warm weather and lack of snow combined to create a difficult hunting season, but by muzzleloader season in December there was snow on the ground.

About 40 hunters came Tuesday to hear about the statistics and to give the Fish and Wildlife Department and three board members who were on hand some of their opinions.

No one argued with Mr. Haskell’s assessment about the health of the herd, but there was plenty of debate about what should happen to various hunting rules and seasons in the future.

A restriction on spike horns has been in place for five years and is expiring, and the board will consider various options to keep it, change it, or drop it.

The board will also look at moving seasons around to accomplish the task of keeping Vermont’s deer herd healthy.

“I think the deer hunting right now is better than it’s been for years,” said Larry Burdick, who said he hunts in Brownington.  “I’d like to see it stay for another five years,” he said of the spike horn restrictions.

Mr. Haskell said the board is looking at data that shows that keeping people from shooting larger spike horns might be counter productive, because the smaller yearlings are being protected, mating with does, and creating smaller bucks and bucks with smaller antlers.

The 2009 hunting season saw fewer deer killed, but biologists said that is what they expected because the winters in the two years before that were severe.  Still the kill was not down as much as often happens after two severe winters, they said.

And many of the deer killed in 2009 were good sized.

“The number of bucks reported weighing more than 200 pounds nearly doubled in 2009 compared to 2008,” says a 19-page harvest report prepared by the department.

Mr. Haskell noted another sign of the herd’s health — analysis of does killed by cars shows more fawns per doe than in years past.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were 1.22 fawns per doe, he said.  Now there are 1.55.  He said that doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it means there are lots more fawns being born.

“We’ve got 20,000 more fawns hitting the ground in the spring,” he said.

Roy Kilburn of Berlin said the board should not combine muzzleloader and archery seasons.

“We’re down 12,000 archery licenses,” he said.  He said bow hunters will go to New Hampshire instead where they can hunt more days.

Warden David Gregory was asked if the state will ever put an age restriction on youth hunters or if the children should be required to pass a test for shooting accuracy.  Currently, if a child can pass a test for knowledge of hunting and gun safety, that child is allowed to hunt with a parent or mentor.

The warden said he doesn’t believe an age restriction is necessary.  He teaches the classes and finds lot of eight-year-olds who want to take the course, but about half of them fail the first time.

“It’s not whether you’re hitting a target — it’s whether it should be a target, to me,” he said.  He said New Hampshire is much more restrictive and says children can’t take the class until they are ten years old and can’t hunt by themselves until they are 16.

If they haven’t started by then, he said, kids will probably not take it up and will play soccer instead.

“I think soccer is going to end the world,” he said, which drew a laugh.

Warden Gregory mentioned that there is a shortage of wardens right now.  Vermont needs about four or five more, and he encouraged anyone interested to look into it.

“It’s the best job I ever had,” he said.

He said he wished he had brought a brochure, and he was featured in it.

“You don’t have to be as good looking as the people in the brochure,” said Cedric Alexander who also works for the department.

One of the questions for the Fish and Wildlife Board or the Legislature is whether or not hunters should be required to wear fluorescent orange.

“I think it should stay a personal choice,” said board member Grant Spates of Derby.  He said he wears orange if he is hunting somewhere where there might be more people, but at his camp he usually wears camouflage.

“It’s back to what you said.  You need to identify your target,” he said.  If people are required to wear orange and someone gets shot who is not wearing orange, then can the person who did the shooting blame the victim?

Some in the room said anyone who shoots someone accidentally needs to go to jail, and those on hand seemed to agree.

On the subject of diseases, Mr. Haskell asked the hunters to use synthetic urine to cover their scent instead of real urine packaged and sold from another state because it could carry a disease.

“You can use your own, I’ve heard.  I don’t know,” he said.

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