Pre-season deer hunting event gives opportunity to young riflers

By KAITLYN GIROUARD

KAITLYN GIROUARD
Community members 15 and younger were able to participate in the Youth Deer Weekend last Saturday and Sunday. At the event, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s Operation Game Thief trailer displayed animals and firearms.

From sunrise to sunset on Saturday, Nov. 9 and Sunday, Nov. 10, local Vermont youth took to the woods all across the state in hopes of a successful deer hunt. This Youth Deer Weekend is one of the three hunting weekends in Vermont geared toward younger generations of hunters. The event precedes the opening of rifle season by one week. This gives youth — defined by Vermont Fish and Wildlife as those 15 and younger — the chance to get into the field before the deer season opens to older, more experienced hunters.

“Youth weekend originally began as a youth day before being expanded to a full weekend,” Vermont Game Warden Wesley Butler said. Butler currently covers the Southern half of Addison County and remembers participating in the youth season himself when he was growing up in the area.

“I got a 128 lb four-pointer on Saturday,” said Colby Butler, a successful local youth hunter. Colby started hunting when he was seven years old and is now 15. “I think that [youth weekend] is a really good time. I kind of like it more than regular season.” For him, youth weekend is really about family.  “Whenever I think of youth hunting I think of time with my brothers,” he said. 

Butler explained that there are multiple laws that apply to youth deer season that are not present during what is often referred to as the “regular season,” which is open to all ages. During youth weekend a youth hunter must be accompanied by a licensed but unarmed adult to provide an experienced mentor for aspiring hunters as they are introduced to the activity. Youth hunters are also required to ask for permission on the land that they wish to hunt on — even if that land is not posted or otherwise restricted. This measure aims to  teach youth about respect for land and community members. Youth Deer Weekend allows participants to hunt deer regardless of the deer’s antlers or sex, which increases the opportunities for shots. Biologists can learn valuable information about the health of the herd from the does (female deer) and spike horns (small bucks which are illegal in the regular season) that youth hunters can hunt during this weekend.  This information, which is otherwise unavailable, can help inform policy recommendations.

In terms of law enforcement, Game Wardens said that they want youth to have a positive experience, encourage hunters to take the season seriously and use the weekend for what it’s intended for. For this reason, Butler says that youth weekend violations result in increased fines and, potentially, the loss of an adult’s hunting and fishing license.

This year Vermont Fish and Wildlife and local Middlebury businesses teamed up to host an Operation Game Thief event during youth weekend. The event, held at G. Stone Motors and Vermont Field Sports on Rt. 7, included raffles, discussions with game wardens and a barbeque for the community. 

“We put together a youth event for the kids and the community to get them out and educate them about hunting and the different aspects of it,” said Tara Raymond, the Finance Manager for G. Stone Motors. 

In addition to hosting, there were raffle prizes such as a lifetime hunting license, a Ruger gun donated by Vermont Field Sports, a shoulder mount by Bragg’s Taxidermy and a wildlife woodburning by Dattilio Artwork.

Youth check in their deer by bringing them to certified weigh stations like VT Field Sports, and Rack ‘N Reel in New Haven, Vermont. Manager for Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources Amy Alfieri was stationed at this location to examine the deer that were brought in. “The deer being brought in over the past couple years have had good fat on them and the population seems to be healthy,” Alfieri said, and went on to explain the examination process. She measures the spread (the widest distance) of the antlers on a buck, the quantity and health of the teeth to estimate age, and removes an incisor tooth from the deer to be professionally analyzed in a lab out of state. Alfieri also weighs the deer, visually assesses its health, and asks the hunters questions to understand if it was dressed properly in the field. 

Tanner, 11, and his dad Chris Alexopoulos, a Fisheries and Wildlife Specialist for Green Mountain National Forest, visited the Operation Game Thief event between their time in the field on Sunday. Tanner shot his first deer when he was nine and hoped to get another one this year. 

“Tanner is a fourth-generation Vermont wild game hunter,” Chris said. “The youth weekend is imperative. We have to keep the young sportsman involved and active.”

The state hopes that having youth weekends will encourage participation and get new sportsmen and women who will take on the role of maintaining the healthy conservation of the beautiful Vermont wildlife. There are many hunting courses throughout the state and around the year. Interested youth can also attend Green Mountain Conservation Camp to learn more.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.