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Buck season to look different during pandemic

Published: Nov. 10, 2020 at 8:01 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The 16-day rifle buck hunting season begins this Saturday, but there are a few changes this year.

If you’re headed out to hunt, being safe is always a top priority, and with COVID-19 cases on the rise, a few adjustments have to be made to also keep people healthy.

“A lot has already been happening in the Vermont woods,” said Mark Scott, the director of wildlife for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Bow and bear season is already underway and rifle deer hunting is next. Scott says rifle season is the most popular in the state. But this year is going to feel a little different.

“Hunters that are out there. If you know a hunter, please encourage them to use an online reporting system to check in big game," said Scott.

By law, a hunter has to report deer killed to the state within 48 hours. Typically that could be done at one of 122 check stations, and it still can, but due to COVID-19, the state is requesting reporting be done through their online system.

“Only for the safety primarily of yourself, your fellow sportsman, other members of the public, and as well as these check stations," said Scott.

Scott says the goal is to limit the congregation at check sites, a place where hunters can typically gather to watch bucks come in and spend time with other sportsmen.

But this year isn’t only about protecting the health of the human population. He says the only spaces they do want people to come to are seven biological check stations, where state biologists can check the health of hunted deer. It’s something he says is critical in monitoring the health of the deer population.

“Deer are one of the most important animals in our state, and we are seeing a downward trend really in the health of our deer," said Scott.

Scott says this is likely because of declining habitat. And although the population is still high -- hovering at about 135,000 animals statewide -- he says the need to track deer health is critical.

“In order to get more of those deer that are 2- or 3-year-olds, we have to come up with a regulation to protect them, so that’s why we have the spike horn ban and the one buck limit,” said Scott.

And like any year, if you are headed out to hunt, they are encouraging safety measures like orange fluorescent gear. Scott says safety first always comes back to the hunter.

“Always -- you’re the person responsible before you pull the trigger, of where that bullet is going to go,” said Scott.

For those that may not be following the rules, officials are urging the public to report suspicious activity. Whether you catch someone shooting from the side of the road or hear a gunshot in the middle of the night, there are ways to make sure hunting is being done safely and legally.

The department has created Operation Game Thief through the Federation of Vermont Sportsmen to combat poaching in Vermont. It’s an anonymous system where you can let game wardens know of dangerous practices happening all over the state. The game wardens can also arrive quickly by contacting the local police dispatcher if you see illegal activity or hunting.

Scott says the department relies on those in the woods to help protect the animals they are hunting.

“We call them poachers. They are not hunters, who are out there breaking fish and wildlife regulations,” said Scott.

Scott does not recommend getting involved directly if you notice something going on on your property, but rather recording as much information as possible and contacting local police or sending an anonymous tip.

The list of the biological check stations this year include:

  • Buck Stop Mini Mart – Bennington
  • Jericho General Store – Jericho
  • The Village Market & Deli – Bakersfield
  • Keith’s Country Store – Pittsford
  • R&L Archery – Barre
  • Singleton’s Store – Cavendish
  • Guilford Country Store – Guilford (Saturday only)

Click here for more information on regulations and changes coming to the rifle season.

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