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As State Studies Deer Population, Hunters Asked To Collect Teeth

Taylor Dobbs
Biologists will be collecting deer teeth at some biological reporting stations this weekend, but they're asking hunters to send teeth of their deer for study. In this 2013 photo, students collected blood for another study of the deer population.

Vermont’s deer hunting rifle season begins on Saturday morning.

This year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking hunters to send them the middle incisor teeth of deer that are killed.

Middle incisor tooth is the standard for aging deer, says Deer Project Leader Nick Fortin. The teeth are sent to a lab, which cross section them and determine the age. It’s similar to counting the rings on a tree, Fortin explained.

The biological reporting stations where hunters bring their deer collect information such as weight and antler points, but Fortin said that information doesn’t mean much unless biologists know the age of the animal. Biologists do go to a handful of stations each year, but they’re asking hunters to collect the teeth in order to get a larger sample size. Teeth envelopes and instructions have been sent to all biological reporting stations.

“The reason we’re asking all hunters to do this, trying to collect a whole lot more information, is to try to get at any potential changes we’ve seen in antler size as a result of our antler point restriction,” Fortin said. “With a larger sample we’ll be able to tease out differences in different regions of the state, which we think exist, but we’ve never been able to collect enough information to solidly show that."

About a decade ago the state adopted restrictions that only allow hunters to shoot deer with antlers with two points on one side. The antler restrictions were put in place to try to allow more young deer to reach that older age class, so hunters had a better chance at larger bucks and also to balance the sex ratios of adult deer.

Biologists suspect the differences in deer density in certain parts of the state mean the regulation has a varied impact on the population. Fortin says with stronger hunting pressure in northwestern and southwestern Vermont and higher deer density, more young deer are found in those areas. 

“With the current antler point regulation we have where a buck has to have two points on one side, the higher our hunting pressure is, the stronger of a selective pressure that is we may actually be selecting for smaller antlered bucks,” Fortin said. “In other areas where the hunting pressure is low it’s probably not having any impact.”

Along the spine of the Green Mountains and in the Northeast Kingdom, Fortin said there are fewer deer and fewer hunters, so deer tend to reach higher ages.

"The higher our hunting pressure is the stronger of a selective pressure that is we may actually be selecting for smaller antlered bucks." - Nick Fortin, deer project leader

The department has made similar requests for bear teeth for several years, and they’ve only received samples from about 50 percent of the bears killed. “I’m hopeful deer hunters will be a little more receptive to it,” Fortin said. “I think a lot of deer hunters nowadays are kind of interested in how old their deer is, and they’ll be able to find that information once we get the results back."

Hunters are also being asked to keep their antlers at home. Biologists hope to go back and measure the antlers for a sub-set of antlers for each age class of the teeth that are sent in. While that information is collected at biological reporting stations, not all stations use the same standard for points, so Fortin says biologists hope to collect accurate measurements later this winter.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
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