Vermont archery season harvest straining game processors

  • Randy Royer of Royer’s Chop Shop in Irasburg cuts venison into a boneless neck roll on Nov. 1. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger VTDigger — Glenn Russell

  • Royer’s Chop Shop in Irasburg processes wild game besides venison, including bear. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger VTDigger — Glenn Russell

  • Randy Royer of Royer’s Chop Shop in Irasburg breaks down a deer carcass for further processing on Nov. 1. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

  • Randy Royer of Royer’s Chop Shop in Irasburg speaks with a customer checking on their order on Nov. 1. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Published: 11/12/2022 9:46:56 PM
Modified: 11/12/2022 9:46:54 PM

Randy Royer of Royer’s Chop Shop in Irasburg, Vt., can’t keep up with the number of deer arriving at his door during archery season.

For the past several weeks, he’s had to send customers to other businesses because of the demand.

Royer said he can process around seven deer per day, or about 50 per week, because he works every day during the season. He can fit about 40 deer in his cooler, he says. “Right now I’m full, and I got more coming tonight, and seven more coming tomorrow.”

The 2022 archery season is on pace to match the state record, and wild game processing businesses in the state are having trouble keeping up. Some say the loosening of state hunting restrictions in recent years have contributed to the uptick, but officials have doubts about that.

Once a hunter kills a deer, wild game processors go to work — field-dressing, skinning and butchering the deer, according to Vermont Fish & Wildlife. The hunter gets meat for the table, and the processor disposes of the parts the hunter doesn’t want.

A partial list from Vermont Fish & Wildlife provides contact information for 18 processors statewide, but the industry isn’t regulated, the list is incomplete, and it hasn’t been updated in two years. Some processors have other jobs and deal with deer in their spare time.

The archery season for deer hunting in Vermont began Oct. 1, and will pause for the regular deer hunting season that runs from Nov. 12 through Nov. 27. Archery season picks up again from Nov. 28 to Dec. 15, according to Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

“There definitely is an increase in the archery harvest over last year,” said Nick Fortin, Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s deer and moose project leader. Last year, the archery deer harvest was 4,426, about a third less than the harvest from 2020, according to a harvest report.

“Right now, it looks like we're on pace with the harvest we saw in 2020, which was a record,” Fortin said.

That year, the state recorded 6,165 deer taken during archery season, breaking the 1999 record of 5,296, according to another harvest report. The 2020 record marked a 65% increase from the 2019 figure and 64% more than the previous three-year average, according to the report.

It so happens that 2020 was also the year when Vermont Fish & Wildlife changed several hunting regulations to increase the harvest of antlerless deer.

The state extended the archery season in an effort to “create more hunting time and increase the harvest of antlerless deer,” according to the Fish & Wildlife Facebook page. The extension provided an additional 23 days of the archery season, according to a video from 2020 explaining the changes.

Also in 2020, the state declared it legal for anyone, regardless of age, to hunt with a crossbow. “Our hope in this change is to recruit more archery hunters and keep our archery hunters hunting more and hunting longer,” Fish & Wildlife announced in a Facebook post.

The changes in regulations were made to manage the deer population in areas where hunters do not typically hunt during the regular season, Fortin said.

“Because of where and how archery hunters hunt, this harvest tends to come from areas with higher deer densities, and has little or no impact on areas with fewer deer,” Fortin said in the 2020 video.

However, the rule changes cannot entirely explain the record-breaking year, because 2020 also recorded a large increase in the number of hunters in Vermont due to the pandemic, according to Fortin.

“That kind of screwed our interpretation up,” Fortin said of the 2020 results.

Two years later, the numbers are up again, and some deer processors who are being overwhelmed are blaming the regulation changes.

Ian Holmgren — whose father, Eric Holmgren, owns Orange Custom Game Processing, located in Orange, Vt. — says this is the first time the business has had to shut down for a week to catch up with the workload during the archery season.

“For the past four years, every year we’ve had to close down during rifle season, but never during archery,” he said. Holmgren thinks the cause is likely from the 2020 change in crossbow regulations during archery season.

During last year’s archery season, crossbows accounted for 76% of the total number of successful deer hunts, up 25% from 2019, when crossbow hunting had more restrictions, according to the 2021 harvest report.

“There's no limits anymore,” Holmgren said. “It used to be (age) 65 or if you were disabled you could use a crossbow, but now it's a lot easier.” Crossbows are generally stronger and shoot farther than conventional bows.

Another game processing business blames the extended archery season and its overlaps with other hunting seasons for the high demand for processing this year — a lot more deer are being taken at once.

Because of the changes in regulations, the extended archery season now overlaps with the youth/novice weekend that occurred Oct. 22-23, as well as the early muzzleloader and muzzleloader seasons, according to Fish & Wildlife. Royer said he prioritizes the kids during the weekend, and had to turn away bow hunters because of that.

“They could kill deer this weekend along with the kids, and I sent away like six or seven this weekend just ’cause I was doing this weekend for the kids,” Royer said.

Royer said that two other deer processors are located within 10 miles of his shop, and “they are all full.” He said he’s had to send successful hunters to other processing businesses because “there’s too many seasons going on at once.”

Along with the kids/novice weekend, archery season also overlaps with the early muzzleloader season Oct. 27-30.

“It doesn't make sense to run all these things together,” Royer said. “People can't get their deer cut.”

While Fortin agrees the deer harvest has risen this archery season, he is skeptical that 2020 regulation changes are the root cause, saying he doesn’t think they are “much of a factor anymore.”

“My suspicion would be it's more related to weather conditions and — probably more so this year — a lack of natural food out there,” Fortin said. “A lot of those deer are coming out to fields, which makes them more vulnerable to hunters.”

Fortin acknowledged that the deer harvest is “definitely higher than it was before we made those changes,” but said what these numbers really show him is that last year was an odd year for hunting.

“It was sort of a really strange year last year, and the fact that we're kind of back to 2020 numbers might almost be more indicative that last year was weird than anything else,” Fortin said.

Since the season is far from over, it's difficult to say why the archery harvest is up now. The state won’t have official numbers until sometime in January, Fortin said.

“These are things we don’t know,” he said. “We can only speculate.”

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