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Wildlife Watch: Vt. wildlife officials experiment with online turkey reporting

(WCAX)
Published: May. 26, 2020 at 2:15 PM EDT
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Vermont's spring turkey hunt is drawing to a close at the end of May. As Ike Bendavid reports, the pandemic has changed how hunters report their birds.

Katie Kayhart has been hunting her whole life. This year she took her son Gavin out, who bagged his first bird on youth hunting weekend.

"I got so excited I just went stiff," Gavin said. "I shot it and it just flew right down... ...18 pounds, and it was as big as me."

The family would normally bring their prize to a weigh station, but those have been closed because of the coronavirus. Vermont Fish and Wildlife canceled the in-person interactions and is asking hunters to report online instead.

"It was good. It was a lot easier then we thought it was going to be," Kayhart said. She says they were able to type all the information in right from the woods. "We just did it right as soon as we were getting the measurements."

The state uses the information to assess the turkey population and hunter effort. For 2020, officials say they saw around 16,000 thousand turkey hunters -- that's a few thousand more then the average, and it's mostly all residents.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife's Mark Scott says the pandemic provided an opportunity for people looking to get out of their homes safely. "People had a little free time on their hands now and they are taking advantage of it. We are noticing it with our fishing license ales and also our turkey hunting licenses," Scott said.

He says feedback so far on the new reporting system is positive. "Hunters are actually loving it. I think it's one of the more popular things we have done in regent years, especially with the young hunters," Scott said. "Kids had no trouble at all sending in their pictures. Some of the older folks like myself were not as adept. Using your iPhone or computer, we are finding we are not getting pictures from them,

but most people are getting on and getting the hang of it."

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Doesn't this get rid of part of the tradition of hunting -- going to the way weigh station and interacting? Is there a fear that's going to be gone?

Mark Scott: It does, but I don't think it's going to be gone. I think our plan in the future has a combination, but probably with a species like turkey it makes a lot of sense to electronically report it... ...We are finding out from folks that they are hunting more now because they can go out and don't have to worry about taking that time about taking that bird to a check station.

Scott says it's still unclear if hunters in other seasons will have to report online. "This time we had to go to an emergency route, which is not our preferred way. So, we have gone back to the Board to ask for permitability for the commissioner to enable hunters to report birds this way. I don't think we are going to do it with bear -- we are only talking 500 to 600 bear -- but deer we are not sure yet because we would like to get the biological data on the deer that are harvested," he said.

But for one young hunter and his family, it was a successful hunt and report. "I was really happy and excited at the same time," Gavin said.

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