There are a lot of disgruntled deer hunters in the northern tier states and a lot of biologists who are ducking for cover. Everyone agrees that there were a lot less deer in the woods than in recent years, but that is about all they agree on.

The last of the Vermont deer hunting seasons ended on Sunday, but the arguing has just begun. You can be certain that the management of the deer herd will once again be debated in the legislature.

New Hampshire\'s regular firearms season ended Sunday also, but Granite State bow hunters have until Dec. 15 to bag a deer. However, very few deer will be taken in the last few days.

As of last Wednesday, the Vermont deer kill for the regular firearms season was down a staggering 33 percent. It may drop further when the final tally is made around the first of the year. The kill reported was 6,750 compared to 10,029 at the same time last year. To give you an idea of what to expect, the final kill in 2000 was 10,235. I doubt Vermont will break 7,000.

Locally the figures are even more disappointing. Caledonia County recorded 383 vs. 690 last year, Essex 168 vs. 352, Orleans 278 vs. 557 and Orange 576 vs. 881.

The archery kill stands at 3,328, youth hunting day at 770, and muzzleloader at 355.

Sunday was the only day many hunters had to hunt on snow during any of the fall seasons. By then many hunters had given up and cleaned and stored their weapons.

If you listened to the predictions from game managers in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine back in the summer, you expected a decline in the deer kill, but hardly the drastic drop we experienced. It appears that the wildlife people way underestimated the winter kill that resulted from the big April storms.

They are and were in a difficult situation. If they are too pessimistic in their predictions, those all important out of state hunters will not come. That means a big loss of money that the departments sorely need. If they are too optimistic, as was the case this year, they take a lot of heat from angry hunters and some legislators.

I don\'t think we have a lot to worry about. I suspect changes will be made for the 2002 seasons to reduce the kill significantly. Deer are very resilient and the herd will rebound in a couple of years. Why, I may even get a deer.

Vermont Bear Hunters Were Very Successful

The deer may have been scarce, but the bears weren\'t. Vermont hunters bagged 489 bruins according to the reports received as of Dec. 5. The season ended Nov. 14, but reports continue to trickle in.

\"This is Vermont\'s third bear harvest in a row over 400,\" said wildlife

biologist Scott Darling, who chairs the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department\'s bear team. \"Prior to these last three years, the only time the bear kill went over 400 was in 1966.\"

Darling said, \"Recent higher bear harvests are indicative of Vermont\'s growing bear population and our commitment to bear habitat conservation. Particularly since the length of the bear hunting season was reduced in 1990 in order to increase the bear population. We will again, however, be examining the length of the bear hunting season to make sure the bear population is being managed consistent with Vermont\'s Bear Management Plan, which proposes to slightly increase the bear population over time.\"

The low reproductive rate of bears make them more vulnerable to declines than many other types of wildlife so Darling said the department must continue to closely monitor the bears.

In an effort to improve knowledge on the habitat needs of Vermont\'s bear population, Vermont wildlife biologists are collecting tissue samples of bears taken by hunters. DNA from the samples will be analyzed to gain a better understanding of the genetic makeup of the bear population.

Poachers Are Criminals

Hunters get the bad rap when illegal activity occurs, but I don\'t think they should. There is a big difference between the ethical hunters who are the vast majority and the few criminals who give us all a bad name.

They are innocent until proven guilty, but two recent cases concern me and most sportsmen.

Wade Flood, 35 of Wolcott was cited on Dec. 4 for what may prove to be his third fish and wildlife violation since 1999. He was charged with possession of big game taken in closed season after Vermont game wardens discovered he had a doe in storage.

Flood\'s hunting and fishing licenses are under suspension due to two previous convictions, one for taking a deer out of season last year during muzzleloader season, and the other for taking over the limit of trout in 1999 while fishing at Nelson Pond.

If convicted, this would be Flood\'s second \"big game\" law violation. Under Vermont law his license suspension would extend to three years again, he faces a find of $500 to $1,000, and imprisonment for not more than 60 days, or both. He also could face a \"restitution\" fee of $1,000 for having the deer.

Bradley Piper, a 37-year old resident of Morrisville, was convicted of taking a deer in closed season in 1997 and has now been charged again for poaching.

On Saturday, December 1, shortly before 10:00 p.m., Vermont game wardens executed a search warrant at a deer camp in Elmore, Vermont.

The case was initiated in response to several complaints about illegal poaching activity at the camp. The wardens conducted over 40 hours of surveillance, watching the camp primarily after dark.

Their persistence paid off. The officers found that large piles of apples, apple mash and vegetables had been placed around some apple trees near the camp. The officers were watching from the nearby trees, night after night, as the camp\'s occupants used a high-powered spotlight to illuminate the bait piles.

The investigation also revealed a motion-sensing device in a tree above one of the bait piles. Any motion in the area of this bait pile activated a radio inside the camp, alerting its inhabitants to the presence of deer.

On the night of Dec. 1, shortly before the search warrant was executed, a male subject was seen pointing a muzzle-loading rifle out the camp window. Attached to the rifle was a spotlight, which was used to illuminate the baited area. When the subject pulled the trigger, however, only the percussion cap ignited, and the gun did not fire.

As a result of the search, wardens seized the motion-sensing device and radio alarm, the muzzleloader and spotlight, ammunition, and marijuana. Bradley Piper was charged with using an artificial light to spot and locate wild animals, and possession of marijuana.

\"It\'s frustrating to run into the same people over and over again who seem to be habituated to poaching, and in many cases these people are convicted felons, \" said Lt. Colonel Robert Rooks, Vermont Fish & Wildlife\'s Chief Warden. \"We may have to look at measures that would provide stronger deterrents for the hard core poachers who seem unimpressed with the current penalties for violating Vermont\'s fish and wildlife laws.\"

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