Deer season: a very good year?

Vermont deer hunters had a very good season according to preliminary numbers released by the Fish & Wildlife Department. Last years favorable winter conditions and recent changes in Vermont deer hunting regulations are credited with improving the number of deer and increasing the number of bigger, older bucks taken by hunters, said State Wildlife Biologist Shawn Haskell, who heads Vermonts deer management team. By Jan. 23, the preliminary buck harvest of 2007 was 8,875. At least 5,520 antlerless deer were taken, including 532 doe fawns, 519 antlerless bucks, and 4,469 adult does. As usual, the antlerless buck to doe fawn ratio was about 1:1. Including a few unknowns, total harvest was about 14,500 deer. In contrast, the 2006 total harvest of 12,678 consisted of 7,804 bucks and 4,856 antlerless deer. Heaviest does reported for youth, archery, and muzzleloader seasons were 180 lbs. (Andover), 167 lbs. (Northfield), and 174 lbs. (Gilford). Heaviest bucks were 225 lbs. (Orleans), 210 lbs. (Peacham), 196 lbs. (Franklin), and 250 lbs. (Vershire) during rifle season. There were 48 does reported weighing at least 150 pounds and 77 bucks at least 200 pounds. According to data collected by biologists at check stations during opening weekend of rifle season, the age structure of harvested bucks continues to increase since the spike-ban antler regulation went into effect in 2005. Historically, bucks did not live long in Vermont. Prior to 2005, a decade of annual age data revealed a fairly consistent age structure of about 60-25-12-3 percentages of 1-2-3-4+ year-old males, respectively. Estimated age structure of the harvest (not population) increased in 2005 to 44-32-19-5 percent of the same age classes. Haskell points out that in 2005, the increased percentages of 2 and 3 yr-olds sampled from the harvest were simply artifacts of the new antler regulation, not because there were more old deer in the population. The spike-ban made the percentage of yearlings in the harvest decrease in 2005. In 2006, the estimated age structure percentages of the harvest were 37-42-19-2, again based on data from the bio-check stations. That was the first time that two-year olds outnumbered yearlings, suggesting that the spike-ban did spare yearlings in 2005 that were subsequently harvested as two-year olds in 2006. In 2007, estimated age structure percentages were 26-49-22-3, quite a swing from 2005. The surge of 2 yr-olds this year may have been due to good fawn survival during the mild winter of 2005-06. A small percentage of those yearlings protected in 2005 likely made it into the 2007 harvest as 3 yr-olds. Average weights of bio-checked deer statewide have increased along with age structure. Average dressed weights, in pounds, in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 were 125.2, 125.1, 134.1, 135.6, and 138.0, respectively. Statewide buck and total harvests from 2003 and 2007 were very similar. However, with harvested bucks weighing about 13 pounds more on average, thats about 115,000 pounds more deer and 50,000 pounds more meat harvested in 2007 compared to 2003. The statewide spike-ban antler restriction seems to be having the desired effect. While we mostly see the successful hunters during opening weekend, my discussions with folks around the state and other biologists suggest that hunters are pleased to see more signs of rut than they used to before 2006, said Haskell. I think having older males should be a more natural situation because previous deer predators, such as wolves and cougars, probably did not deplete the male portion of the herd as heavily as we do which of course we do. Breeding behavior is important, and Im guessing those girls are happy to see some bigger males around. Ive watched a yearling moose try to court a mature cow, and she wasnt having any of it. Well be watching the spike-ban experiment closely, he added. This winter started pretty rough for deer, but well see how things finish after the January thaw.

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