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Deer season keeps firing, even as the pandemic complicates travel, socializing

  • Johnny Balch, of Lyme, left, hands a knife back to Eddie Gray, of Orford, as they prepare to weigh the deer, shot by Balch on the fourth day of rifle season, at the Lyme (N.H.) Country Store, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. “I haven’t shot a deer in three years,” said Balch, who has concentrated his recent hunting efforts on waiting for larger animals. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Henry Jones, a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game, measures the diameter of a deer’s antler one inch above the burr, it’s knobby base, at the Lyme Country Store in Lyme, N.H., Saturday, Nov., 14, 2020. Fish and Game uses the data, also including weight and age, collected from game registration stations, to determine the health of the deer population. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Deirdre Perkins, left, called her son Kaleb Perkins, 7, right, out of his their car to see a 10 point buck shot by Aaron Russell, of Rome, Pennsylvania at Patterson’s Grocery and Deli in Orford, N.H., Saturday, Nov 14, 2020. Russell, who is aiming to kill a big game animal in all 50 states, hunted with friends, who gave first names only, David, of Norwich, second from left, and Faith, of Orford, third from left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Zach Martin, of East Thetford, wipes his hands after helping his brother Drew weigh the buck he shot on Saturday, Nov 14, Vermont’s opening day of rifle season, at the reporting station at Baker’s Store in Post Mills, Vt., Vermont. The state is also allowing deer to be reported through an online form on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2020 9:51:51 PM
Modified: 11/15/2020 8:54:27 AM

POST MILLS — While people have had to modify or forgo many traditions this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least some hunters in the Twin States still took to the woods on Saturday, decked out in camouflage with rifles in hand, as they do every year.

It took East Thetford resident Drew Martin under two hours to kill a more-than-160-pound buck with six points on Saturday morning, the first day of rifle season in Vermont.

“Sometimes it happens quick,” the 26-year-old carpenter said as he prepared to weigh the buck at Baker’s General Store in Post Mills. “Sometimes it’s a battle.”

He and his brother Zach Martin hunt every year on East Thetford land owned by their grandparents. Doing so has allowed them to get to know the deer herd that lives there, said Zach, 20, who works for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

“Some things can’t change with the hard times,” he said.

But some change is being asked of hunters, at least those who usually travel and meet up with friends. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and state health officials last week pointed to deer camps, where some hunters gather, as one of the types of places where compliance with efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — such as mask-wearing and social distancing — has been lacking, contributing to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the state.

In an effort to bring case numbers down again, Vermont as of Tuesday began requiring a 14-day quarantine for people traveling to the state for outdoor recreation such as hunting. New Hampshire does not require a quarantine for visitors from other New England states.

Vermont’s restrictions discouraged the 48-year-old Aaron Russell of Rome, Pa., from making the trip across state lines in the Upper Valley, he said after weighing in a 173-pound buck at Patterson’s Grocery & Deli in Orford on Saturday morning.

Russell, who is on a mission to shoot large game in each of the 50 states, said Saturday’s buck brings his state total to 23. The Green Mountain State remains on his list, but it “doesn’t sound like I’m very welcome in Vermont,” he said. Russell said he shot his buck on his fourth day out in the woods. New Hampshire’s rifle season started on Wednesday.

As of the first weekend of muzzleloader season, New Hampshire was seeing one of the highest harvest rates yet, said Henry Jones, a wildlife biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, who was weighing deer at the Lyme Country Store on Saturday.

The warmer weather since then, however, may have put a damper on things, he said. As of about 11 a.m. Saturday, Jones had weighed in just one deer at the Lyme store. The hunter had shot his first buck, a 127-pound, five-point, 2½-year-old that he had tied on to the top of his Honda CRV.

But, Jones said, the previous three days had been busy in Lyme. Given the shorter, warmer winters the region has had of late and the abundance of acorns, Jones said he expects hunters should have a good chance of hitting their target.

Vermont’s COVID-19 travel restrictions haven’t stopped Vermonters from hunting in New Hampshire, Jones said.

“I’ve registered a lot of deer taken by Vermont residents,” he said. And, he said he’s heard some confusion over what constitutes “essential” travel. But, he also pointed out, he’s “not seeing hunters that aren’t coming.”

The pandemic has discouraged Pat McCarthy, a Lebanon resident, from making his usual twice-monthly trips from September through February to game preserves in New York or Connecticut to hunt pheasant, which he said “tastes like chicken.”

McCarthy, a cemetery sexton for the Lebanon Public Works Department, said traveling “in and out of the state” would be complicated given the city’s health protocols for employees.

“We haven’t been down at all this year because of the COVID,” McCarthy said as he helped his girlfriend’s father care for a lawn in Norwich on Saturday.

“I’d feel pretty bad if I infected guys at the shop,” he added. But, he said, being unable to go on his hunting trips has been making him “a little stir-crazy.”

Others like the Martin brothers in East Thetford have maintained most of their traditions this hunting season.

Ron Nass, a retired truck driver from Westminster, Mass., has been coming weekends to the same hunting cabin, a weather-beaten mobile home off the side of unpaved Kerwin Hill Road in Norwich, for 40 years. On Saturday, standing outside the cabin dressed in full camouflage and wearing a blue-paper facemask, Nass said that only two of the usual eight who use the cabin weren’t there because of coronavirus.

Nass said he’s been pretty much keeping to himself back home during the week in Massachusetts and hasn’t missed a weekend at the cabin in Norwich, where he feels safer with friends he trusts than he would among strangers at any rest stop on the 2¼-hour journey along the way.

“I drive straight through and don’t stop,” said Ness, who hunts white-tailed deer during both bow and rifle seasons. He said his weekends at the hunting cabin “help me (by) just getting to see other people and hang out with them ... At least up here you are in the woods, in the outdoors and you don’t have to worry about ... meeting anyone.”

As they left Baker’s in Post Mills, the Martins said they planned to show off Drew’s buck to family, and then let it hang for a few days before cutting it up.

They’ll use the venison in tacos, as pulled venison and “pretty much anything,” Drew said. He said, “I always feel fortunate” to get a deer.

Valley News Staff Writer John Lippman contributed to this report. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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