Lyndon Institute junior Damon Smith is a hunter whose skill and dedication have resulted in a very productive year. The Wheelock resident, who turns 17 in January, likely could teach many of us a great deal.

Within an hour of the opening of the October moose season Damon had killed a 750-pound bull moose that bore a rack with 21 points and a 56-inch spread.

The young hunter bagged two turkeys during the spring season and a bear in September. The last day of the muzzleloader season he connected with a 7-point, 161-pound buck.

Thus, Damon has taken all four of Vermont\'s big game species in one year. That is no small feat for any hunter.

Duane Smith is very proud of his grandson and well he should be. He said, Damon is, \"growing up to be a pretty good hand in the woods,\" and he has, \"got his head on pretty straight for a fellow his age.\"

Damon told me he started going hunting with \"Gramp\" when he was six and got his license when he was 10. So far he has taken four deer.

Not unexpectedly, Damon has his own bear hound and frequently runs his dog accompanied by his grandfather and his uncle, Gaylon Smith.

Damon also loves to fish and I am told he, \"shines at catching stripers off the Maine coast.\"

Damon has a \"lifetime hunting license\" given him by his grandparents and no doubt he will continue to make \"Gramps\" proud. Give him some time and he may even teach Duane some new tricks.

Maine Fish & Wildlife Department Proposes Bill To Stabilize Funding

The refrain is the same in state after state, the fish and wildlife department needs money to do the many things expected of it. Maine is no different, and this session, the state legislature will have a chance to restructure and broaden the funding of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont will be watching closely to see how the bill fares.

Through a bill entitled an Act to Stabilize the Funding of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the legislature could provide a long-term solution to the department\'s funding woes.

The bill contains a fiscal stability program that would supplement the department\'s budget with general fund money, it would establish a process to adjust license costs biannually to allow for inflation and it provides a guideline for restructuring the license fee structure that reflects inflation and customer\'s interests.

\"Licenses are going up to cover the cost of existing programs, but not all by the same amount,\" said IFW Commissioner Lee Perry. \"While a fishing license and a hunting license are each increasing by $9, a combination fishing and hunting license will also go up by just $9, not $18.\"

\"We also propose to change the license structure, so people don\'t have to buy what they don\'t need. A turkey hunter who does not want to hunt deer would no longer need to purchase a big game license, and that is the same for those who want to hunt bear or moose. They could buy a basic license, and then purchase the appropriate permit to allow that type of hunt,\" said Perry.

Under the Fiscal Stability Program, the budget presented by the governor must ensure that the cost of the programs that provide general fish and wildlife related benefits to the state be equitably balanced between general fund money and license revenue raised by the department. In a state of 1.2 million people, studies by the University of Maine show that wildlife watching involves over 750,000 people a year, while the department sold 213,000 hunting licenses. An equitable share would be determined by the governor\'s office.

Starting in fiscal year 2005, licenses, permits and fees would be adjusted to maintain parity with the United States Consumer Price Index.

It Is Winter

Winter is here. The Winter Solstice occurs at 2:21 p.m. today and officially marks the beginning of winter.

Mark Breen points out that the sun takes its lowest track across the southern skies today. This is the shortest day of the year. You can take heart that each day for the rest of the winter we will gain about a minute of daylight.

The Ice Is Not Safe

It may be winter, but the ice is not safe. We have not had enough below-freezing temperatures to provide sufficient ice for the margin of safety needed to make me comfortable.

Never assume the ice is thick enough to support your weight. Check it! Start at the shoreline and, using an ice chisel or axe, make test holes as you move out from shore.

Cold Regions Research Laboratory in Hanover, N.H. recommends a minimum of 4 to 6 inches of ice to support a few, well-dispersed people and at least 8 to 10 inches for snowmobiles.

Remember that ice is usually thinner where there is moving water, such as at inlets and outlets, around docks, bridge abutments, islands, and objects that stick through the ice.

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