ADDISON COUNTY — Between October’s bow season and December’s combined bow and muzzleloader season, Addison County weigh stations handled 346 deer — 183 killed by arrows and 163 shot with muzzleloader rifles.
The muzzleloader total is an estimate because game wardens conducting an investigation took a book with several names of successful hunters from Starksboro’s Jerusalem Country Store; the overall county number is therefore also an estimate, but is certainly accurate within a few deer.
Regardless, the overall total represented a major rebound from 2011’s disappointing combined bow/muzzleloader total of 232, although it comes up short of the combined bow/muzzleloader totals of 498 in 2010 and 448 in 2009.
Combined with the local record 124 deer taken during November’s Youth Hunting Weekend and the solid county total of 405 deer reported during November’s 16-day rifle season (it was the third-highest since 2005 despite uncooperative weather), the final 2012 Addison County deer kill stands at 875.
That total, again, is much higher than in 2011, when county stations weighed only a combined 671 deer.
But it falls short of the best recent seasons — it might be fair to call it average overall:
• In 2010, 1,021 deer were weighed locally (428 rifle, 95 youth weekend, 498 bow/muzzleloader combined).
• In 2009, the number stood at 840 (301 rifle, 91 youth, 448 bow/muzzleloader).
• In 2008, the best overall year in recent memory, the final count stood at 1,026.
This season also saw a continuation of the upward trend in the weight of bucks killed during rifle season. The average weight of bucks killed this year was 146 pounds, up from 144 in 2011.
The average weight had dipped down to 139 in 2010 after a tough winter, and the average in both 2008 and 2009 was 141 pounds.
More than half the bucks shot this year weighed between 130 and 170 pounds:
• 57 tipped the scales between 130 and 139 pounds.
• 56 came in between 140 and 149.
• 62, the most in any 10-pound grouping, weighed between 150 and 159.
• 56 were between 160 and 179.
Most weigh station operators credited Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife rules that took effect in 2005 for the gradual increase in weights. Those rules ban taking of bucks with fewer than three antler points during rifle season, meaning that more bucks survive to grow older and heavier, and have nicer antler racks, before they are shot.
But despite the relatively productive 2012 seasons, many hunters said this fall they were not seeing deer. Some, according to Steve Ploof, owner of East Middlebury reporting station C&S Hunting Supplies, told him they planned to stop hunting in Vermont and go to states where deer were more plentiful — and where they believe state officials do more to enhance the deer herd.
“A lot of guys say they’re not going to hunt here any more,” Ploof said “They (state officials) are not taking care of the deer herd, and (hunters) are fed up with it.”
Ploof said some suggested not allowing muzzleloader hunters to shoot does, or allowing hunters to take just two deer total across the various seasons (bow, rifle and muzzleloader), not three, or just one buck, not two.
“That’s what’s hurting our herd, shooting all those does,” he said. “They’ve got to do something.”
Ploof said the 2005 antler rules have helped, but suggested the limits on antlers be even stricter.
“I believe the new rules are working, but they need to refine them, make them better,” he said.
But Vermont Field Sports owner Dick Phillips was not sure tweaking rules could fully resolve what he called long-term changes to the state.
Phillips said, for example, there are fewer farms and fewer families who cut their own wood on their properties, and that both of those activities create food sources for deer.
“Bottom line, it’s the habitat,” he said.
It could be fair to say hunters might have to adjust their expectations, Phillips said.
“People want it to be like the 1960s, when you could walk across the road and there would be a half-dozen deer standing in the meadow,” he said.
Wildlife officials still have only preliminary data, but painted an optimistic picture in their most recent release, which featured rifle season date collected as of Dec. 4. As of that date, they reported a harvest of 4,897, compared to the three-year average for that data of 4,867 deer.
They also reported a preliminary bow total of 2,915, “compared with an average of 2,484 deer reported on the same date over the last three years.”
According to the department press release, “Vermont’s whitetail population is healthy,” and the 2005 antler restriction “has resulted in more numerous and older bucks in the deer population.”
The department is taking credit for sound herd management.
“Hunters this year saw the benefits of managing for deer herd health,” said department deer biologist Adam Murkowski. “Preliminary analysis has shown that not only are more deer being harvested this year, but the physical condition of these deer is indicative of a healthy and robust population.”
BIG BUCKS BAGGED
Certainly, a number of local hunters bagged trophy animals.
During rifle season, the following were among notable successes:
• Three 200-plus-pound bucks were weighed at Buxton’s Store in Orwell. Jesse Booska shot a 218-pound, 8-pointer in that town, and two tipped the scales at 215 pounds and had eight points: Glenn Telgen killed one in Shoreham, and Eric Russell brought the other one down in Orwell.
• New Haven’s Village Green Market weighed four 200-pounders, one that might have offered the best combination of size and antlers, a 203-pound, 10-pointer that Scott Stearns shot in Ferrisburgh. Also weighed there was a 203-pound, 7-pointer Kevin Kayhart shot in Waltham, and a 200-pound, 8-pointer Cody Barnum killed in Monkton.
Travis Paquette had a 218-pound, 8-pointer weighed at New Haven’s Village Green Market, but it had only been field-dressed; unlike the other animals its heart, lungs and liver had not been removed.
• Others included John Palmer’s buck that was weighed at Vermont Field Sports; it came up just short of 200 pounds, a 198-pound, 8-pointer. Two hunters might end up with the best wall displays: Robert Ketcham shot a 180-pound, 11-pointer in Cornwall that was weighed at Buxton’s, and Ambrose Cousino killed a 186-pound, 11-pointer in Hinesburg that he had weighed at the Village Green Market.
One young hunter, Nicholas Duprey of Chittenden, had a deer weighed at Buxton’s Store during youth weekend that a store employee called “a monster,” a 213-pound, 7-pointer shot in Sudbury.
The most impressive animal taken by a bow hunter was a 216-pound, 11-point buck brought down by James Dragon in Sudbury and weighed at Buxton’s.
Stephen Gutowski probably bagged the nicest muzzleloader trophy, a 184-pound, 10-point buck shot in Ferrisburgh and weighed at Vermont Field Sports.
See a list of all local hunters who were successful in the recent bow and muzzleloader deer hunting seasons here.