It was a good year to be a big game hunter in Vermont in 2012. In particular, populations of wild turkeys and black bears are at very high levels, offering hunters of those species excellent opportunities. The whitetail harvest also saw several positive trends in 2012, with the totals for all hunting seasons within the statewide management goals. Perhaps of greater note, 2012 marked the first year in which there were no hunting-related shooting incidents in Vermont.
Hunters harvested 13,850 white-tailed deer during Vermont’s archery, youth, rifle, and muzzleloader deer hunting seasons in 2012, which is commensurate with the previous three-year average of 13,977 deer. Following last year’s mild winter, the Fish & Wildlife Board issued more antlerless permits in 2012 resulting in a 16 percent increase in muzzleloader harvest over the previous season.
"While the number of antlerless permits rose slightly in 2012, they still allowed for slow growth of the herd in most regions" said Adam Murkowski, deer project leader for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. "The number of antlerless permits changes annually to meet our management objectives for the deer herd. However, rifle season harvest totals increased from last year and from the three-year average, and there were many reports from hunters that they were harvesting larger and healthier bucks.
Vermont hunters were very successful during the 2012 bear season and fall turkey hunting seasons. Turkey hunters harvested 1,365 birds in the fall 2012 seasons, up 53 percent from the previous three-year average and nearly tripling last year’s total. Vermont hunters harvested 621 bears in 2012, which represents a 20 percent increase from the previous three-year average.
"The high turkey and bear harvests this year are due to large population sizes and to changes in food availability," said Forrest Hammond, wild turkey and black bear project leader for Vermont Fish & Wildlife. "In 2011, there was a high production of nut and seeds, so turkeys and especially bears were staying put in high remote places away from hunters. This year, the low production of nuts and seeds drew the animals out in the open, to corn crops and grass fields, where they’re more easily harvested by hunters."
Moose harvest numbers fluctuate annually based on the number of moose permits issued in order to meet management objectives. Hunters harvested 222 moose in 2012 and had a 52 percent success rate among permit holders, down slightly from 58 percent in 2011. This was likely due to unseasonably warm temperatures during moose season and lower moose densities overall.
"Moose hunters did quite well in the Northeast Kingdom this year," said Fish & Wildlife moose project leader Cedric Alexander. "We reached our target harvest in the Kingdom’s management zone E1, which was the last zone where we still needed to bring the population down a bit to meet moose density objectives."
"The department’s ability to manage game herds is only possible because of the sportsmen and sportswomen of Vermont," added Murkowski. "Every Vermont hunter is involved in the research and management process, in addition to providing the information needed to assess and manage game herds throughout the state."
All harvest totals are subject to several rounds of recounts, which may change the totals slightly before the final report is issued in March.
Vermont is also celebrating its first hunting season with no hunting-related shootings. The 2010 hunting season was the previously lowest year, with two minor incidents.
"Vermont hunters should be proud," said hunter education coordinator Chris Saunders. "This year’s record defies the common misperception that hunting is dangerous."