BENNINGTON>> Early counts of Vermont's 2015 deer harvest indicate a stable and healthy buck population statewide, according to state wildlife officials.
And despite an unusually warm season and little to no snow, the numbers show Southern Vermont game stations reported a harvest similar to 2014, with an increase in the number of bucks killed.
Officials were surprised and pleased the state's buck population stayed level after back-to-back severe winters, said Nick Fortin, deer project leader with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
"It's encouraging because it means our deer are healthy and can survive those harsh winters," Fortin told the Banner this week.
A decrease in the number of buck taken from higher elevations and the Northeast Kingdom could be attributed to tough winters, Fortin said. But early counts show a stable population In Southern Vermont, where the elevation is comparatively lower.
According to the state's preliminary counts, 12,710 deer were taken during Vermont's 2015 harvest, which began Oct. 3 with the first of archery seasons and ended Dec. 13 with muzzleloader season. Statewide, 3,398 deer were taken during the bow and arrow seasons, 1,277 during youth deer weekend, 6,592 in rifle season and 1,443 in muzzleloader season. All that amounts to more than 630,000 pounds of venison.
The total harvest was about 6.5 percent less than the 13,590 taken in 2014. Fortin said that's due to a 43 percent reduction in the amount of muzzleloader anterless permits, a response to the winters of 2014 and 2015.
Southern Vermont harvest
The state is divided into 21 Wildlife Management Units used to regulate hunting big and small game. Two Southern Vermont units are: Unit N, which includes Bennington County towns west of Route 7; and Unit P, which includes Bennington and Windham County towns east of Route 7 and west of Route 100.
Early numbers for the 2015 season show hunters took 606 bucks and a total of 910 deer from Unit N. Both counts are up from the 499 bucks and 881 total deer taken in 2014.
In Unit P, 248 bucks and a total of 314 deer were taken. Those are both down from last year's 261 and 335, respectively.
The total harvest from both units was 1,224, just eight more than the previous year's. A total of 854 bucks were taken from both units, up from the previous year's 760.
Compared to previous three-year averages, harvest numbers increased slightly during the archery and rifle seasons, but decreased during the youth and muzzleloader seasons, according to Fortin. The buck harvest of 8,294 was nearly identical to the previous three-year average of 8,286.
The number of male deer "is a huge factor in determining the health of our deer here in Vermont," Fortin said.
The state's management strategy is to keep the herd stable, healthy and in balance with what the environment can support, he said, which is reflected in the number of permits given out in each unit. Too many deer within one wildlife unit can mean they're fighting for resources, he said.
Fortin said, based on 2015's pre-hunt count, Vermont's deer population was between 115,000 and 120,000.
Fortin said final counts are still being submitted by game stations from across the state. Final numbers for the 2015 big game harvests — bear, deer, moose and turkey — are expected to be completed within the next month.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979