Hunting in the time of Covid brings families and friends together with precautions
By Peg Bolgioni
Since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, many have flocked to the outdoors. Participation in recreational activities like hiking, biking, and running have seen an uptick, but in Vermont, there has also been an increased interest in hunting.
Louis Porter, commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept., attributes this to a number of reasons, including a greater desire to be connected to family and friends in an activity that allows them to isolate within their Covid-19 pods, as well as a heightened concern about food supply chains and the ability to procure locally sourced food that is free of chemicals and antibiotics.
According to Commissioner Porter, there are some common sense approaches that hunters should do to keep themselves and others safe from Covid.
“We advise that if you and a friend are going hunting perhaps you should drive separately unless you are in the same Covid pod,” he explained. “Please be aware that if you are dressing a deer with someone that brings you in close contact with them, take turns doing so.”
There are two types of hunting check stations in Vermont. The first could be a local store where an employee helps you check in your big game and records the information, and the second are biological check stations where Vermont Dept. of Fish & Wildlife biologists are on site to record any biological data.
“At both check stations it is very important that people abide by the Covid restrictions and safety requirements,” Porter maintained. “We have sent letters to a couple of check stations telling owners and managers that we can’t continue to have them continuing operation if they aren’t compliant with Covid safety requirements. As commissioner, I can’t be requiring people to report their big game in places that put them and their family at risk for Covid and I also can’t put my staff, volunteers, biologists at risk either. Overall compliance has been very good. Many hunters are excited to check in their big game and meet up with other hunters. They are very cooperative about wearing masks and social distancing.”
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife website (vtfishandwildlife.com ) states those traveling to deer camps who reside in parts of New England and New York with fewer than 400 active Covid-19 cases per one million residents, are able to come into Vermont for recreational purposes without having to quarantine, if they come in their own personal vehicle. Those from counties outside Vermont with higher than 400 cases per million are to self-quarantine for 14 days before arriving in Vermont, or quarantine for seven days and receive a negative Covid-19 test.
Porter added, “Many are taking extra precautions and going to camp with those in their Covid pod, some are renting a cabin so they can be alone, others are pitching tents outside, and those in the camp are bringing them food.”
One of the interesting trends that has emerged is a demographic of hunters in their 20s and 30s that have started hunting. The term “Adult Onset” hunters refers to those who did not grow up in hunting families. To them it is about engaging with the environment in a different way, and obtaining local game.
Understanding that Vermont is an aging state and hunter participation numbers will start to decline, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife is trying to pivot in its effort to engage more hunter participation.
“We have actually changed the way we do business in the age of Covid,” said Porter. “Our hunter safety class numbers have increased because we now offer both hunter and bow hunter classes online and in person.”
The department has recently imposed a 12-year-old age limit for those taking the class online, which does not require the students to go to the range. Anyone under 12 has to take the hunter safety course in person.
Porter explained, “It is a question of maturity. We had some very young people supposedly graduating from the online classes at the age of 6 and under. For those kids under 12 we felt it was very important for one of our hunter safety instructors to have eyes on them and judge their maturity.”
This year, Oct. 24-25 marked the introduction of Novice Deer Hunting Weekend, which overlapped with Youth Deer Hunting Weekend. For the first year, someone who gets their license can participate in this weekend. To be eligible, they must be at least 16 years old, with a valid Vermont resident or non-resident hunting or combination license, and accompanied by an unarmed adult 18 years of age or older who also holds a Vermont or Vermont non-resident hunting or combination license.
“It was much more successful than we imagined,” said Porter. “We expected about 200 participants and had over a thousand! We have been lucky in Vermont that we have been able to expand our game management and have longer and more seasons. I would also say it’s safe to estimate even during that pandemic, that Vermont is on track for a 20% increase in hunting participation this year over last.”