Hunters to review deer regulations

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.BENNINGTON -- Groups of hunters are being formed to review eight-year old antler restrictions and to make recommendations on other deer-related regulations -- at least ones that do not involve the number of deer in Vermont.

Deer Project Leader Adam Murkowski said the Fish and Wildlife Department is accepting applications from hunters to be part of one of three "Regional Working Groups" which will meet four times this year and offer recommendations to the state’s Big Game Management Team, which in turn makes recommendations to the Fish and Wildlife Board.

More than 40 applications have been received so far and the management team expects to have members to the group within a few weeks so the first meeting can be held in March. "It’s our intention to vet these people and make sure we get a diverse group," said Murkowski.

Murkowski said the department has divided the state into six zones based on the differences between deer habitats. Each working group will be assigned two zones and consist of roughly eight hunters representing each zone. The first meeting should take place in March, with the rest in May, July, and September. The groups will not meet again after this year as their job will be to assess regulations currently in place which should remain the same for some years to come, said Murkowski.

While the groups can discuss regulations they feel are important, one that will be specifically put to them is the rule on how long a male deer’s antlers must be before they can be legally shot. In 2005 the Fish and Wildlife Board passed a regulation saying that a legal buck is defined as a deer with at least one antler having at least two points with one point being an inch long or more. Murkowski said this came at the behest of hunters themselves and is commonly called a "spike horn law." Its purpose is to protect yearling bucks and allow them to grow larger before becoming the targets of hunters.

The state has touted the law as being the likely cause of a measurably healthier deer population in recent years, but Murkowski said like any regulation it’s good to review it after it has been in effect for some time. He said the annual public meetings the department hosts for deer hunters, as well as a deer hunting satisfaction survey, will be provided to the work groups so they can form their recommendations.

What the groups will not be asked to discuss is the size of the herd or the population’s density. Murkowski said the Big Game Management Team has created and been implementing a 10-year Big Game Management Plan, which it feels is solid and plans to adhere to. Other regulations are open for discussion.

The groups, once appointed, will work out its own meeting schedules and locations. Murkowski said they will work on a volunteer basis and not be paid a stipend or have travel expenses covered. Applications can be found online through the department’s website, www.vtfishandwildlife.com. Members will be announced through the department’s site and contact information for them will be made available.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.

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