Daughter takes up hunting 'to beat dad!'

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CONCORD, N.H. — Wednesday was a beautiful, crisp morning, just cold enough to remind everyone that it's late fall in New Hampshire. But as Becky Haskins walked along Sewalls Falls Road back to the car with her father, she wasn't happy.

"I had him right there, and I missed," she lamented, looking back on a bow-and-arrow shot at a four-point buck she took from the family deer stand.

Larry, her father, was sympathetic.

"I missed him earlier," he said.

Wednesday was the start of the hunting season for white-tailed deer with firearms, following weeks in which they could be hunted only with muzzle-loaders or by archery. Deer season is by far the most popular hunting season, and the state's back roads were full of pickup trucks Wednesday morning as men and women wearing camouflage and blaze orange tried to begin with success.

The Haskins, from the Fisherville section of Concord, haven't even started firearm season yet. On Wednesday, Larry was carrying his muzzle-loader (he's already taken his limit of two using bow and arrow) and Becky carried the compound bow she got for Christmas. She prefers archery for hunting, she said, because it's more "peaceful" than using a rifle or muzzle-loader, and doesn't have firearm kickback that can be an issue for smaller people.

Becky, 25, a dental technician and waitress, said she has been out hunting with her bow many times since archery deer season started in September, although so far without any luck.

This is the first year she has hunted, after taking safety classes and getting her license, although for years she has accompanied Larry, 52, a retired butcher and self-described jack-of-all-trades.

Larry has hunted since he was a teenager, seeking deer, bear and other game - but no longer pheasant or ducks, he added: "My legs don't take all that running anymore."

What led Becky to decide to finally join in with the hunting? Family togetherness, of a sort.

"I'm trying to beat dad! It's competition," she said, laughing. Then she grimaced, because this made her morning miss all the more annoying.

The Haskinses have a deer stand — a platform up in a tree, higher up than deer usually notice — near the rail trail on the east side of the Merrimack River, but they also hunt throughout the Concord region, including in Loudon and Canterbury.

"They have lots of deer in Canterbury," Larry noted.

They are far from alone in their pastime, as New Hampshire has sold about 58,000 hunting licenses this year.

That figure has remained roughly constant for the past decade, but it's a big drop from the 95,000 licenses that were sold annually as recently as the mid-1990s. Hunting has declined nationwide for a variety of reasons, ranging from demographics to more competition for entertainment time from electronic devices, but it seems that the numbers have stabilized for at least the time being.

Through the end of October, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game, 3,276 deer had been killed by hunters through archery and muzzleloaders, up 4 percent from last year at the time.

The annual Youth Hunt weekend, when youngsters under age 16 can hunt without a license if accompanied by a licensed hunter, was held Oct. 21 and 22. A reported 223 deer were taken that weekend, which is down 13 percent from last year, but Fish and Game noted that not all registration stations have reported: Information is missing from several stations, likely due to the recent power outages.

The firearms deer season runs through Dec. 3 in all of the state except the northern portion of Coos County, where it closes Nov. 26.

Hunting seasons are set by Fish and Game on the advice of biologists with the goal of maintaining a healthy deer herd.

Before the early 1980s, deer seasons were set by the Legislature, wrote Dan Bergeron, Fish and Game deer biologist, in an article about the process of setting seasons.

"For the most part, management of deer consisted of a north/south split of the state and an open or closed season (dice rolling may or may not have been involved). This led to drastic population declines following a series of severe winters and over-harvesting of female deer," he wrote. "In 1983, a total of 3,280 deer were harvested statewide, the lowest deer harvest in the state since the 1940s. Around this time, management authority was handed over to the Fish and Game Department, and a more focused, scientific approach to deer management was established. Since then, the state's deer population has increased dramatically; harvests now average close to 11,000 deer a year."

The number of deer killed by hunters each winter is often used as a way to estimate the size of the state's deer population. Deer must be registered at hunting stations within 24 hours of being killed, where they are weighed and measured.

During the first two days of the muzzleloader season and three of the first four days of the firearms season, Fish and Game biologists are stationed at several of the busier registration stations around the state to collect more detailed biological data on the state's deer herd.

One issue that continues to be controversial in hunting is the use of liquid scent lures based on deer urine, rather than more expensive lures based on synthetic chemicals. Fish and Game urges hunters not to use urine-based lures because they can potentially contain prions that spread chronic wasting disease, a deer version of mad cow disease that has damaged deer and moose populations farther west. CWD has not yet been detected in New Hampshire.

One organization that appreciates hunting season is the New Hampshire Food Bank, which takes donations of whole or processed deer.

Becky and Lary Haskins, who already have venison in the freezer as well as a 147-pound doe hanging up that will be processed later, can understand why they want it.

"It's delicious," Becky said. "It just tastes better."

David Brooks can be reached at 802-369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.

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