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Big Game Species

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is responsible for the conservation of wildlife in its broadest sense. The department's mission encompasses everything from mammals and birds to fish and reptiles to insects and plants. The big game species listed below-white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey and moose-are all species that are hunted in Vermont. Each of these species play important biological and social roles in Vermont's wild communities. Bear/Deer/Turkey Reporting Stations »



White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are one of the most studied and talked about species in the state. The importance Vermonters place on deer is evident in looking at the state seal. It is a deer, not an eagle or other mythical creature that sits atop the state seal!

Deer Biology

White-tailed deer are one of the four species of the North American Deer family. Elk, mule deer and moose are the other three. White-tails are the most numerous and widely distributed member of the deer family. They live in a wide variety of habitats, from southern Canada to Central America.
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Their population over this range is estimated to be 25 million. In Vermont, deer are found in the mountains, river valleys, agricultural lands, and even in backyard suburbs.

Deer are completely vegetarian. They eat a variety of leaves, twigs, and nuts. In Vermont, a deer's diet consists of maple, ash, birch twigs and leaves. Small plants, grasses, and fruit and nuts such as apples, acorns, and beech nuts also are important foods. In order to get the nutrition from such a wide variety of food that is hard to digest, a deer has four stomachs-just like a cow. This helps deer digest food that a human couldn't possibly digest.

Habitat

White-tails are very adaptable and occupy a wide range of habitat types. In Vermont, deer are found statewide. Known as a species that prefers forest "edge," they occur in highest numbers in habitats that feature a blend of large woodlots and agricultural openings. Because they are so adaptable, they also are found in more limited numbers in the expansive forests of the Green Mountains and the Northeast Kingdom.

In its northern range, deer winter areas or "deer yards" are a critically important habitat type for deer to survive through the cold winter. Only 7-8% of Vermont's forests make up such wintering areas. An important part of a deer yard is the evergreen trees that catch the snow in their branches, thus reducing snow depth underneath. The trees also provide thermal cover that gives the deer protection from the wind. Deer may move 10 to 15 miles to go to a yard and stay in the protection of the area all winter.

Don't Feed Deer

During Vermont's long, cold winter, it may seem like the deer need human help to survive but this is not the case, it is illegal to feed deer in the state of Vermont for several key reasons:
  • Increased risk of disease transmission. Deer concentrated at feeding sites are more likely to contract diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), tuberculosis, salmonella, and brucellosis. Because of the nose to nose contact deer have at feeding locations, these deadly diseases are easily passed from one deer to another.
  • Smallest deer get pushed away. Competition for food around the feeding sites can be fierce. The smallest and weakest deer, usually fawns, get pushed to the end of the feeding line. Wild, dispersed deer rarely display this behavior, and allow the younger deer an opportunity to eat.
  • Habitat destruction. Deer continue to feed on natural foods like trees and shrubs even while being artificially fed. Because of the intense concentration of deer in a feeding area, the surrounding trees and shrubs become permanently deformed or destroyed.
  • Deer lose their natural wildness. Deer get used to being around humans. This usually results in deer becoming pests by destroying neighborhood gardens and shrubbery. People often become possessive of "their" deer, leading to difficult decisions regarding over-population.
  • High risk of attack by dogs. As deer concentrate around feeding sites they become increasingly vulnerable to attack by neighborhood pets. Their loss of wildness aids in this vulnerability. Wild predators, such as coyotes, are often drawn to the feeding sites, too.
  • Feeding deer is expensive. A deer's digestive system is sensitive to sudden changes in diet. Commercially blended foods should be provided for the entire four-month wintering period. This will average about $55 per deer. Because one deer always leads to many more, hundreds of dollars each month can be spent.
Deer and People in Vermont

Controlling deer numbers is important because an over-abundance of deer can cause habitat damage due to over browsing of natural forest foods; can cause damage to crops; and pose a danger on Vermont highways from deer-vehicle collisions. Part of balancing the needs of deer and the needs of people is the role of regulated hunting. Deer hunting in Vermont is a 100-year tradition. It is an enduring element in the cultural heritage of Vermont. It is a family activity (deer camps) and community activity (game suppers at fire houses and churches). Through regulated deer hunting seasons in the fall of each year, deer numbers are managed. The public harvests more than 800-thousand pounds of venison each year.

Many Vermonters also enjoy viewing and photographing deer as they go on walks or rides throughout the state.

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Black Bear

Whether they are alone in the forest, viewed through a chance sighting, or hunted in the timeless tradition of obtaining food from the land, Vermont's bears provide a vital connection with our natural and wild heritage.

Bear Habitat

Eastern black bears require forests for survival, but not just any wooded area will do. Bears need stands of oak and beech trees that produce nuts for food in summer and fall. Bears also need wetland forest habitat, where they get food in spring. Because bears use different habitats seasonally, they must also have a way to move among them. Bears travel through "corridors" to move across roads or through developed areas from one habitat area to another.
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Bears are large animals, and they require large, unbroken areas of habitat. Through careful management of habitat, today's Vermont black bear population is robust. But, bears face continuing pressures on their habitats from things like highways and unrestricted development. When these forces break up bear habitat and travel corridors, bears face the challenge of "fragmentation." Habitat fragmentation causes many problems for bears. It restricts them from moving about their home ranges. It reduces their supply of natural food. It increases the chance of collisions with automobiles. Perhaps worst, it cause them to come in more frequent contact with people. If we are able to keep our bear population healthy, we must find ways to prevent and minimize fragmentation of their habitat.

When Bears and People Interact

People love to see the Eastern Black Bear in its natural surroundings. But when bears venture into human territory, problems can occur. Often, bears pay the price. Bears can get all the food they need from the forests, but they are opportunists. This means they eat whatever food they can find most easily. When a chance for easy food presents itself, bears take advantage of it. People often encourage bears to come out of the forest by providing food without realizing it. Once bears become used to these food sources and come into frequent human contact, people sometimes call them "nuisance bears." But, they are just being bears! Some of the most common sources of food provided by people that attract bears are: pet food, bird feeders, barbecue grills, garbage, household trash containers, open dumpsters, and campsites with accessible food and food wastes.

Here's what you can do to keep from attracting bears out of their forest habitat. Never feed bears, deliberately or accidentally. Feed your pets indoors. Feed birds from December to March only. Store trash in a secure place-trash cans alone are not enough! People need to remember that bears are wild animals. Everyone is better off when bears stay in their natural habitat-the forest.

Bears-Many Things to Many People

Vermonters value bears for many reasons. Some hope to view a bear while hiking. Others never need to see one-just knowing that bears roam the woods improves the quality of their lives! Still others see bears as a traditional food source, just as people have for thousands of years. These people find that bear hunting is a thread that binds them to the rich fabric of Vermont's past. Every fall, Vermont has a carefully regulated hunting season for bears. Biologists and wardens use research, laws, and regulations to ensure that hunting will help maintain a healthy bear population.
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