Editor's note: This story is part of an occasional series on hunting.
BENNINGTON -- Youth deer season is this weekend and ahead of it, the state has been encouraging land owners to make their properties available to responsible hunters.
"We've found that a lot of land owners post after a single experience with a hunter that rubbed them the wrong way," said Tom Rogers, information specialist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
According to the department, the amount of posted land has roughly doubled between 1971 and 2011 going from about 100,000 acres to between 200,000 and 230,000. Hunting license sales have also been on the decline, according to figures released by the department showing 91,039 licenses sold in 1987 to 73,558 in 2004.
The reasons vary, but a common complaint from hunters is land access.
In Vermont, land is considered open to hunting unless legally posted, which involves registering the land as such with the relevant town clerk's office and properly marking and placing the signs. Rogers said recent legislation has given land owners the option to use "hunting by permission" signs, which work similar to posted signs but are more inviting. Rogers said the signs themselves are not available through the state yet, but that is expected to change once the wording on them is finalized.
The distance one must be from a road before shooting at game has been increased to 25 feet, up from 10. "Road hunting" is another complaint the department hears, said Rogers.
The department has also created an online map, found at www.tinyurl.com/VermontPublicLands, which shows where public lands are. Rogers said the map is not limited to hunting.
Patrick Berry, commissioner of the Fish and Wildlife Department, recently went on a media tour talking about the importance of hunting to the state. Rogers said these outreach efforts will target hunters as well as land owners, as a few "bad apples" can cost the entire hunting community opportunities and contribute to hunting's decline.
While the drop in license purchases has been steady, there have been slight bumps. Rogers said there is a great deal of crossover appeal between hunting and the "local food" trend which the department plans to explore.
The youth deer weekend, which is this Saturday and Sunday, was started as an effort to encourage young people to take up hunting. Anyone 15 or younger who has passed a hunter education course can purchase a hunting license that comes with an additional free deer tag. According to the department's website, up to two young hunters can be out accompanied by an unarmed adult who holds a valid hunting license. Landowner permission is required even if the land is not posted. A youth can take one deer of either sex and normal antler restrictions do not apply.
The regular rifle season begins the following weekend and runs until Nov. 30.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.