Rifle season opening sees mixed results

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Thirteen-year-old Camden Devereaux decided to hold out for a buck this year. He came up empty on Youth Hunting Weekend, but was rewarded with this eight-point buck, shot in Barton on the first day of regular rifle season. Photo courtesy of Karen Devereaux

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 11-14-2012

Mixed results from the 2012 opening weekend of deer season suggest that bragging rights for the biggest deer might be shifting locations in the Northeast Kingdom.

Once the hallmark of the big woods in Essex County, deer weighing over 200 pounds were increasingly showing up at reporting stations this weekend in Orleans County.

“It’s rare in a season to get two deer weighing over 200 pounds,” said Bob Booth, whose Bob’s Quick Stop in Irasburg is one of the county’s premier big game weighing stations.

“Now we’ve got three and it’s only the first weekend.”

Of the 40 deer reported at Bob’s Quick Stop late Tuesday afternoon, the largest belonged to Chris Marsh of Orleans — an eight-pointer weighing 215 pounds.

Elsewhere around the area, early reports suggest that the 16-day rifle season that opened on Saturday got off to a slow start.

No one was calling it global warming, but over at Currier’s Quality Market in Glover, Windy Currier thought the weather might have been a contributing factor

“It’s been so warm,” she said, commenting on a warm spell that sent temperatures up to 65 Monday in West Glover.

Despite a slow start, the count at her store had risen to 30 by Tuesday.

No such drastic turnaround occurred at E.M. Brown in Barton.  By Tuesday only one deer had been reported — an eight-pointer weighing 152 pounds shot by Jed Lyon.

Further to the west, at the Four Corners Mini Mart in Troy, the weekend action was equally slow.

“Haven’t been that many reported,” said Barb Major, speaking from the store Tuesday where seven deer had been reported.

Ms. Major was careful to note, however, that the low reporting numbers might have more to do with the hunters than the deer.

“They could be going somewhere else, I don’t know,” she said.

Up in Island Pond, gateway to the big woods, the season got off to a promising start.

“Opening day wasn’t too bad,” said Walt Driscoll, whose taxidermy shop serves as a reporting station.

He checked in 12 buck Saturday, but then saw the number dwindle over the next three days to five, one, and one for a Tuesday total of 19 deer.

Like others, he suspects the unusual weather may be a contributing factor.

“It has been warm,” he said.

While tough winters traditionally have meant fewer deer in the Northeast Kingdom than elsewhere in the state, people at the Fish and Wildlife Department were optimistic that the statewide harvest would be up this year.

A press release issued by the department last week said that archers in October had taken 2,420 deer, which was significantly higher that it has been over the last three years.

“This represents nearly a 20 percent increase over the average for the past three years at this time, even though there are few concentrated food supplies such as apples and nuts this year to attract deer,” according to a press release dated November 7.

Locally, so far no one is predicting that the 2012 rifle season is going to be a banner year.

Over in Newport at Mr. O’s Sporting Goods, Mike Olden said Tuesday that between 25 and 30 deer had been reported in what he was calling an average year.

And while the numbers may be nothing exceptional, he said the deer were looking healthy.

“They’re very, very fat this year,” he said, adding it may be a sign that the deer already know it’s going to be a tough winter.

One of the largest deer reported this early in the season was shot in Irasburg on opening day.  It weighed 198 pounds, carried an eight-point rack, and was shot by a Newport hunter who had gone 15 years without shooting a buck in Vermont.

“I usually miss,” said Mike Fedele, who has had more success hunting deer in Maine than he has in Vermont.

One of the surprises at this point in the season is that the bigger deer are coming from places other than the big woods.

“They’re shooting some big deer outside the Island Pond area,” said Mr. Driscoll, who recently completed a term on the state Fish and Wildlife Board.

“They’re not getting anything like that out there,” he said, referring to the 133,000 acres of woods once owned and managed by paper companies.

The heaviest deer reported at his station were running around 175 pounds, whereas hunters in Orleans County were bringing in deer that were 20 pounds heavier and more.

Of the deer reported in Glover, Ms. Currier noted that several were exceptionally heavy.  Jon Hinton of Brownington shot a four-pointer that tipped the scale at a whopping 197 pounds.

Big deer may run in his family as his cousin Nate Carrier of Albany brought a five-pointer into Currier’s that weighed 194 pounds.

“You could say he beat Nate out by three pounds,” said Ms. Currier.

The department estimates the state deer herd at 125,000, with the largest numbers found in the southwest, east central, and northwestern regions of the state.

“Deer populations have benefited from excellent survival during the mildest winter recorded over the last four decades and good fawning conditions during the spring and summer,” according to deer project leader Adam Murkowski, who was quoted in the department’s release.

The mild winter may also have boosted hunters’ confidence.  Mr. Olden said license sales at his store were up this year.  Meanwhile over in Irasburg, Mr. Booth said he was seeing a lot more hunters and they all “seemed to be pretty happy.”

The 16-day season ends on November 25.

contact Paul Lefebvre at [email protected]

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