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Amid Pandemic, Deer Hunting Sees A Resurgence

A man poses in the woods with the buck he shot.
Roger Hill, Courtesy
Chittenden resident Roger Hill poses with the buck he shot Monday, Nov. 16. Hill said because of the pandemic, he will just be hunting with his immidiate family this year.

According to Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department, the state had more than 86,000 hunting license holders in 2004.  But by 2019, that number had dropped to 78,510.

While the popularity of hunting has been declining for years, state wildlife officials say the pandemic has renewed interest in the sport, and demand for hunting licenses of all sorts are up significantly.Here in Vermont, regular deer season began Nov. 14 and runs through Nov. 29.

In other words: Now is the time when you're most likely to see orange-vested hunters out and about in the woods. You might notice their empty pickup trucks along the side of the road.

And this year, Vermonters may be even more likely to see signs of hunters on their wooded walks.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people are out of work or working less hours and that gives them more time." - Louis Porter, Vt. commissioner of Fish and Wildlife

According to Louis Porter, Vermont's commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, hunting license sales have risen about 20% this season.

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“Unfortunately, a lot of people are out of work or working less hours and that gives them more time,”  Porter said. “And we know that hunting and angling are things that people love and are important to them, but they're also time-consuming activities, and so with additional time, people are engaging in those activities more.”

Porter said many Vermonters also may need the food and the natural escape hunting can provide.

A nationwide trend

Vermont isn't the only state that has seen heightened interest in the sport this fall.

Ashley Sanchez, a spokesperson with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said hunting license sales in Nevada are also expected to increase 20% this year.

Closer to home in Maine, Mark Latti, a spokesperson for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said they're seeing a similar trend.

“We've definitely seen an increases across the board," Latti said. “After having very stagnant or slowly declining hunting numbers overall, all of a sudden, you know, we're seeing close to a 9% increase,” he went on.

Latti said Maine has seen a big increase in the number of women hunting this year, as well as a 30% uptick in the number of people taking hunter safety courses. While Latti said it’s too soon to know what the pandemic's long-term impact will be on hunting, he said the numbers bode well for next year.

“People understand that, you know, being outside is a great way to stay healthy and stay fit and restore your physical and mental health. And we're seeing people really taking that message to heart,” he said.

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Time in the forest is definitely something Chittenden resident Roger Hill loves about hunting. He said it's something he learned as a child, from his father.

Hill said the camaraderie forged each November at deer camp is also something he looks forward to. “Dear Camp is not just about the hunting experience,” Hill said. “It's about gathering with family and friends when possible and telling stories, reliving memories, sharing laughs, sharing sorrows and hopefully some hunting success along the way.”

Though, he added, “That’s just the icing on the cake if that happens."

A different experience at deer camp

This year, deer camp will be different for Hill and many other hunters impacted by travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.

“We want to be very careful because Vermont has done a great job of keeping the virus pretty much at bay. And so, where it really plays an impact is: you're not able to have some of the ... more distant relatives or friends and other members of your hunting community stop by and share a drink, or share a laugh or admire a buck that might be hanging from a game pole.”

Hill knows several of out-of-staters who have canceled plans to hunt in Vermont this year and he said he will just be hunting with immediate family.

More from VPR: Scott Orders Lockdown On Social Gatherings As COVID Cases Spike

That’s what the Vermont Department of Health is encouraging. At arecent press conference, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said hunters who go to deer camp with people beyond their immediate family worry him. He said the recent spike in cases in Vermont in Washington and Orange Counties are why.

"We want to be very careful because Vermont has done a great job of keeping the virus pretty much at bay." - Roger Hill, hunter

A ban on multi-household gatherings went into effect in Vermont on Nov. 14. The executive order, issued by Gov. Phil Scott, includes outdoor gatherings and those which, in a more typical November, often take place at camps.

“We have well-documented dinner parties, baby showers, people in the high single numbers at a deer camp,” Levine said. “The story goes on and on: opportunities for people to gather together from difference households in very modest-sized circumstances.”

On Nov. 20, Scott clarifiedthat the restrictions do allow people feeling unsafe in their household to leave and take shelter elsewhere, and that people can take a physically-distanced walk with one other person from a different household.

More from VPR: Gov. Clarifies Social Gathering Rules

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said he’s heard from many hunters who are taking steps to minimize exposure by alternating weeks at deer camp or staying in tents instead of sharing a cabin. He said hunters are avoiding carpooling and that many are staying closer to home or hunting in more remote areas to avoid crowded parking lots.

“A major change for the department also is that we are allowing online check-in of deer, for the first time that I know of,” Porter said.

Typically hunters need to check in deer they kill at a state sanctioned reporting station. Those are still open, but Porter said they’ve seen a lot less traffic because of the online option, which he said is another way the state is trying to keep hunting safe during the pandemic.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a messageor get in touch with reporter Nina Keck @NinaPKeck.

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