A key legislative panel is set to weigh in on the biggest changes to Vermont's deer hunting rules in decades.
The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will meet Thursday morning in Montpelier to consider the proposed changes, which would increase the number of deer a hunter can harvest in any given year from three to four — but would also reduce the number of bucks a hunter can kill, from two down to one.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife held public meetings earlier this year on the hunting changes under consideration. Commissioner Louis Porter said the proposed overhaul will give his department more control over a deer population that's surging in some regions and declining in others.
"Over the last several decades, where deer live and where deer are hunted has changed radically," Porter said Tuesday. "And so we're trying to align hunting opportunity with where the deer herd needs to be managed."
The overall deer population in Vermont is actually down over the past year, but Porter said some areas of the state have more deer than the environment can accommodate.
"We know that there are more deer and too many deer in some places that are urban and suburban, and so we're trying to increase the opportunity for archery hunters to take does in those areas and manage that population," Porter said.
By increasing the annual limit to four deer, and reducing the number of male bucks a hunter can harvest, Porter said his department will be able to tailor hunting permits to the wildlife management needs of specific regions of the state.
He also said the increased doe limit will only be allowed in "wildlife management units" where overpopulation is a concern.
Porter said reducing the number of bucks a hunter can kill won't in and of itself have a perceptible impact on deer numbers, but he said it will encourage hunters to take more does in areas where overpopulation is a problem.
And Porter said the reduced buck limit will also result in more older and larger bucks in the deer herd — and he said those are the animals that many hunters say they prefer to harvest.
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Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department could enact the rules even if the eight-member legislative panel votes to disapprove, but Porter said the rules could be more vulnerable to a legal challenge if the department moves forward with the rule changes in the face of legislative opposition.
If ultimately approved, the new rules would take effect for the 2020 hunting season.