Bucking tradition: First day of Vermont’s deer rifle season about more than bagging game

  • Peter Welch, of Groton, left, and Roger Frechette, middle, of Quechee, pass Kristen Bianco, of Linwood, N.J., and her children Evelyn, 4, and Nathan, 6, on their way to the bottom of the Quechee Gorge in Quechee, Vt., on the first day of deer rifle season on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Frechette said he has seen good deer sign in the woods around the gorge but it's the first time he's tried to hunt there. Bianco and her husband got engaged in the groge and have brought their kids to walk the trails there on several visits. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • After checking the deer in at the Teago General Store reporting station in South Pomfret, Vt., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, Neil Heidelmeier, of, Hartland, removes a tooth from the five-point buck he shot on opening day of rifle season that will be analyzed by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to determine the deer's age. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jason Hicks, and his son Damian, 9, of Randolph, at left, congratulate Neil Heidelmeier, of Hartland, center, on the deer he shot on opening day of rifle season after he checked it in at the Teago General Store in South Pomfret, Vt., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Heidelmeier's friend Ryan Townsend, of Bridgewater, right, helped him weigh the 119 pound buck at the reporting station. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley Nws — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/12/2022 11:06:10 PM
Modified: 11/12/2022 11:06:08 PM

POMFRET — Despite a rainy start to the day, the game scale in the Teago General Store parking lot saw a few hundred pounds of action Saturday as Vermont’s regular deer hunting season got underway.

Ryan Townsend, of Bridgewater, braved the wet weather, heading out with his daughter, Brianna, 11, around 5 a.m. The pair hunted from a ground blind to keep as dry as they could.

Although he came up empty and got a bit wet, Townsend would have done it all over again.

“I cherish the time in the blind with my kid,” he said.

The Townsends were joined by friend Neil Heidelmeier, of Hartland, who had a better morning: He’d bagged a five-point buck that morning in Woodstock. Heidelmeier slept in to avoid the rain, waiting to head for the woods until after sunrise.

Of the estimated 128,000 white-tailed deer in Vermont, last year’s hunting season saw hunters shoot under 16,000 total. Since Vermont’s herd size and age structure are generally stable, Nick Fortin, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s head deer biologist, expects this year’s haul to mirror that of recent years.

But warmer weather, like Vermont saw this summer and fall pose a challenge to hunting during “rut,” or deer’s mating season, Townsend said. Warmer temperatures tend to keep deer bedded during more daylight hours.

Townsend pointed out the swollen neck on the buck that Heidelmeier shot as evidence that the deer was in rut.

Townsend and Heidelmeier also said that fewer apples and acorns this year, perhaps from the drier-than-usual summer, meant that the deer were congregating mostly in grassy fields. In a way this makes them easier to track, Townsend said. It narrows down the options.

“We hunt the food sources,” Townsend said.

The Pearsons family, of Hartland, were successful Saturday morning as well.

Kyle Pearsons, 27, said he took down a 120-pound, seven-pointer with an 80-yard shot after following the deer up a logging road in South Woodstock.

“I saw him, pulled the trigger and then dropped him in one shot,” Pearsons said, who, like Heidelmeier, waited until after the early-morning downpour to get outside.

Pearsons was joined by his brother Zach, 23, and his parents, Karen and Dave, all of Hartland.

“The excitement in the boys, that adrenaline, when they get one is just the best,” Karen said about her three sons. She didn’t start hunting until later in life, so she could enjoy with the rest of her clan.

“You can all share stories,” said Karen, who grew up in Pomfret. “That’s why I kind of had to do it.”

She likes to get out early in the morning or just before it gets dark, which she planned to do Saturday afternoon.

“You hear everything going to sleep at the night,” she said. “And then it gets so beautifully quiet.”

Four years ago, Pearsons shot the biggest deer of anyone ever in her family — an eight-pointer that tipped the scales at 224 pounds. But the winds haven’t blown in her favor since then, she said.

“I feel like I’m just paying my price for that big one now,” she said.

The family was joined in the parking lot by Corey Potter, who grew up in Pomfret but now lives on Kodiak Island in Alaska, where he runs a crabbing business.

Potter returns to the East Coast for three or so months out of the year during deer hunting season, trawling around New England in search of the best game. He also came with a message of encouragement for the Pearsons matriarch.

“Karen, it’s your turn,” Potter said. “Now go get another one.”

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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