Wildlife Watch: Deer season a busy time for wardens

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Rifle season isn't just a big time for hunters, it's also a busy time for game wardens. Our Ike Bendavid went on a ride along with Col. Jason Batchelder of Vt. Fish & Wildlife to see what they're dealing with.

Ike Bendavid: What are some of the top violations?
Col. Jason Batchelder: The nighttime violations are the ones that stand out because the deer belong to the people, wildlife belongs to all the people in the state of Vermont. There are times and ways that you may take deer, so when they're taken outside of those of those parameters, that's when you know, that's when we shine.

Ike Bendavid: How can you prove something like that?
Col. Jason Batchelder: It's difficult. It all has to be investigated and unless it's an on-site violation, then it's something has to be investigated. Wardens are all trained interviewers, they sit down with people, they may tell him, 'Hey, look, I've been in your shoes. I hunt myself. I know people who have done this and I'd like to hear your side of the story.' You know it all falls under the rules of crime and criminal procedure so we have to be cautious of people's rights.

Col. Jason Batchelder: We noticed a big decline in our license sales probably about 10 years ago and it's been about 3-- 2.5 percent to 3 percent a year ever since then.
Ike Bendavid: Do you know where that's coming from? Is it just the population?
Col. Jason Batchelder: It is urbanization, they are they are changing the way that they're in touch with the land. People are still outside in great numbers, they're just not hunting and fishing and trapping the way that they used to.

Col. Jason Batchelder: I don't think it's a secret that people are moving to Vermont for different reasons, moving to rural landscapes for different reasons than they used to. So it's not coming out a bad thing, we welcome, you know, every interest from around the state but it used to be people moved here for the hunting, fishing and trapping, and now people are living here for social reasons.
Ike Bendavid: Is that having a negative impact on the animals and the wildlife?
Col. Jason Batchelder: Well, I think that you'll see over the next couple of years that we will have a spike in the deer population because the land is held by some not hunters and not all of it but the deer find sanctuary in places where they're not hunted, right? And so if someone owns a big piece of land that doesn't allow hunting, the deer are going to go there, they're going to populate there.

Ike Bendavid: This past weekend there were two accidental shootings with hunters and when you hear that, what's your reaction first off?
Col. Jason Batchelder: ...Makes your heart sink... it's something that you worry about and something that we never want to hear it... You know, you wonder if it's preventable, you wonder if it's accidental, wonder if it's intentional. You wonder any manner of things. But, you know, if you're asking how I feel, it's never a good thing.

We caught up with a hunter who was lucky this deer season, Jeff Guilmette of Richmond.

"Oh yeah, it's always a catch-22 harvesting an animal but you know it's something that I've always done with my father and friends, and so it's a tradition in our camp," Guilmette said.

The colonel said he appreciates those moments.

"He was out there for a reason and you know, you could see by the smile on his face that he was happy even though he said he might want a little bit bigger one... I hope he's proud of it... and you know it's only the third day of the season in, so I couldn't be happier for the guy," Batchelder said.