Comprehensive Deer Management Evaluation

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Changes to Deer Hunting Coming in 2020

One of the biggest challenges of deer management in Vermont is maintaining a healthy, sustainable deer population while simultaneously meeting the various expectations and desires of hunters. The comprehensive deer management evaluation was an effort to review all deer hunting regulations and potential hunting opportunities to see how we’re doing and where some changes might be appropriate.

Why a comprehensive evaluation?

Vermont’s current deer hunting regulations are largely the result of many, many small changes made over the past 120 years. Seasons have been added, lengthened, shortened. Bag limits have been increased, decreased, increased again, decreased again, and so on. For most of that time the legislature set hunting regulations, but today – and for the past couple decades – the Fish and Wildlife Board has determined most of the rules. Many changes have been the result of petitions to the Board, and this evaluation was partly due to the Department and Board receiving a variety of petitions to change current hunting seasons and regulations (including petitions for a longer archery season, special flintlock season, early muzzleloader hunting, reduced bag limits, and alterations to the antler point restriction). Rather than continue the piecemeal approach, the Department, in collaboration with the Board, chose to take a comprehensive look at our deer hunting regulations. How could we redesign our seasons and regulations to improve hunter satisfaction and help us manage the deer herd more effectively?

Phase I

From 2013 to 2015, the Department and Board hosted several public involvement activities, including an online survey, seven public hearings, the creation of three volunteer working groups comprising Vermont deer hunters, two lengthy input meetings from Board members, and a scientifically valid survey of Vermont deer hunters. During the same period, Department staff began an analysis of the current antler point restriction. In April 2015, the Board approved a set of regulation changes and agreed to a 3-year evaluation of the effects of those changes along with further evaluation of remaining issues.

Phase II

From 2015 to 2017, the Department made a concerted effort to collect additional information on the buck population to further evaluate the effects of the antler restriction. The Department also monitored the effects of the extended archery season and the legalization of crossbows, evaluated options for changes to season timing and structure, evaluated potential changes to bag limits, and evaluated options for regulating deer drives. In late 2018, the Department published a final report detailing the findings of the comprehensive evaluation.

What’s Next?

After gathering public input, the Department will propose a package of changes to the Board in early 2019. There will be substantial opportunity for public input during the rulemaking process as well. It is very likely that deer hunting regulations in 2020 will be different from the regulations found this digest. Just how different remains to be seen.