By LISA RATHKE | Associated Press
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The severe winter that dropped record amounts of snow in New England took a toll on the deer herd in Vermont and Maine, prompting wildlife officials to scale back the number of deer hunting permits issued this year.
As archery deer hunting season opens this weekend in Vermont, the deer population is estimated to be down 11 to 15 percent from last year to a population of around 120,000 due to the winter. As a result, the number of hunting permits authorized has been reduced by 44 percent from 2014, from 17,350 to 9,650.
In Maine, state biologists recommended a nearly 25 percent reduction in deer hunting permits for 2015 because of the tough winter’s toll on the herd. But in New Hampshire, where permits are issued on a two-year basis, the state didn’t feel the need to modify the number of permits for the fall because the deer herd was in good shape, said Mark Ellingwood, chief of the wildlife division for New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department.
Kent Gustafson, the department’s wildlife programs supervisor, said the 2014-15 winter was harsher than recent winters but probably average compared to historical data.
“I would expect the herd to have increased again this spring,” Gustafson said. He predicts the take in New Hampshire this season will be similar to last year’s total of 11,395 deer killed out of a population estimated at around 100,000.
Vermont officials anticipate a lower deer kill this year due the decline in permits and the severe winter. The state’s archery deer season opened Saturday and runs through Oct. 25 with a second season Dec. 5-13. The rifle season takes place Nov. 14-29 and muzzleloader season is Dec. 5-13.
But officials say hunters may have a tougher go this season: Abundant crops of apples, beech nuts and acorns mean game including deer, bears and turkeys won’t have to roam looking for meals.
“It’s going to be an interesting year because there’s so much food out there. The apple crop is almost overly abundant and then when you throw what looks to be somewhat of a promising beech nut crop out there, and the acorns in certain areas, I think the deer become hard to pattern and they become widely distributed. So hunters are still going to have to work pretty well, pretty hard to get their quarry this year,” said Scott Darling, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
AP reporters Rik Stevens in Concord, New Hampshire, and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.