November is finally here! The local TV weather guy always gets me fired up. I’m sure you all know him. He frequently comes across all chipper and happy when temps are warmer than normal, with sunshine and blue skies in the 10-day forecast. I just don’t like his attitude. Give me clouds, cool temps, and precipitation. My favorite days are those miserable days when the driving is sketchy, with snow and wind blowing around. If I can find a buck track in that nasty weather, I’m pretty confident I can catch him and maybe even kill him.
Vermont’s firearm seasons are relatively short compared to our neighbors to the east, which is why you’ll see a lot of green plates across the northern half of New England. In 2022, our youth/novice weekend occurs October 22nd/23rd, our early antlerless muzzleloader hunt for those with permits runs from October 27th – 30th, then rifle deer season starts November 12th and ends November 27th, with a wrap up of late muzzleloader for nine days from December 3rd – 11th.
The hunting camp tradition is strong in Vermont, with a lot of shacks tucked off old dirt roads and squeezed into the back corners of fields. Opening weekend of rifle season is my family’s traditional gathering time at camp, even though many of us have been archery hunting and out across other states by the time that weekend rolls around. It still feels like deer hunting actually starts then. I’ve only missed a couple of opening weekends in the last 40 years. One was due to being deployed to Iraq, which seems like a noble enough reason, and the other I missed due to something called ‘steakhouse syndrome’ where I was rushing to eat a deer tenderloin and got a large piece wedged in my esophagus, a far less noble excuse for missing camp. I eventually got it knocked down and was at camp the next night. I even made it out in time to bump up a buck that my uncle shot Sunday morning!
If you get invited to a Vermont hunting camp, it is reasonable to expect a good time with highly variable accommodations. I’d encourage you to go, because it can be a lot of fun, just keep your expectations low. This will not be a traditional Maine sporting camp experience. My grandfather’s rule for camp was that we had to eat beans, drink beer, and fart like a dog. Since he has passed, we’ve managed to continue to do all those things. Our bunks are filled with people from age 8 to 68, so things feel good there. The deer hunting in VT can be mixed, like everywhere, but every year game poles across VT sag under the weight of bucks taken by hunters who get out there.
Where to Go
For trackers, the northeast portion of the state holds more traditional timber company land hunting. Don’t neglect the spine of the state, though; the Green Mountain National Forest in the southern half of the state has big country, and the units running up the middle have some big chunks of accessible ground. While posted land is on the increase, we can luckily still strike out across private ground, with plenty of public ground around. Rules on a legal buck vary, so pay attention to what unit you’re headed to. In those central and northeastern Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) C, D1, D2 E1, E2, G, I, L, M, P, and Q a legal buck is any deer with at least one antler three inches or more in length, whereas those units that are mostly in the Champlain and Connecticut River valleys, WMUs A, B, F1, F2, H, J1, J2, K, N, and O a legal buck is any deer with at least one antler with two or more antler points one inch in length or longer.
With deer season kicking off, it is easy to get laser focused on the pursuit of a buck. I love that aspect of deer hunting, but I think it’s important to pause occasionally and reflect back on our roots. It only takes a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to be out in the woods doing what we love. Spending time connecting with family and friends in traditional ways strengthens our bonds for the rest the year and creates lasting memories. Five-year-old Matt, who fell in love with the magic and mystery of going to deer camp, would be shocked at the adventures he’s had and the deer he has been able to chase. Our old camp started out as just one cramped room, with bunks along the walls at one end. I remember laying in the second bunk while my father, grandfather and uncle chatted in the early darkness of a November night. The old barrel stove popped now and then, while the gas lights hissed and cast dim circles of light near the table. I fell asleep listening to deer hunting stories that night and have had visions of chasing bucks dancing in my head ever since.
November is here. May the weather guy deliver us snow. Enjoy going to deer camp, the hunt, and I hope everyone gets to chase down the buck of their dreams!