Of the outdoor activities in this guidebook, hunting is certainly the most controversial. It is attacked and defended with equal amounts of passion, honesty, and often, self-righteousness. While far fewer Middlebury students hunt than hike, mountain bike, or ski, hunting is included to provoke thought. Like all the other activities in this guide, hunting, when practiced ethically, is a wise relationship with the land, and can foster a greater understanding of its ecology. For many hunters watching wildlife while in the field is as important as taking the animal set out for. Hunting gives us a framework in which to examine the differences between the college and town community, as well as the role food plays in our environmental beliefs. In addition hunters were among the first conservationists. They have long spoken up for wilderness and open space. Whether or not we chose to go into the field for game, hunting plays an important cultural and biological role in the region we have chosen as home.
The abundance of orchards, woodlots and edge habitat throughout Vermont have given the state an enormous population of whitetail deer. Since humans eliminated the large carnivores (panthers and timber wolves) during settlement, hunting now plays an important role in regulating the size of deer herds in Vermont. Three seasons, bow and arrow (currently Oct. 2-24), rifle (Nov. 13-28) and Muzzleloader/bow and arrow (Dec. 4-12) give Vermont a long, and for hunters, successful, season. Of the New England states Vermont has the second highest number of bucks killed annually, and the highest number per square mile.
The Middlebury area is surrounded by good hunting land. The areas listed here are public areas, and permission is not needed to hunt on them. However, if you wish to hunt on private land, or are unsure of who owns the land, ask first. Respect for the rights of property owners is one of the most important parts of ethical hunting.
To hunt legally you need a Vermont hunting license appropriate to the game you are going after. While non-resident licenses are very expensive, the Vermont Fish and Game Department allows full-time college students to buy some licenses at special resident rates (e.g. a license for the deer rifle season is $14, rather than $85). For more information contact the Vermont Fish and Game Department, or pick up a law book at a sports store.
In addition to many woodland birds like pheasant and grouse, the Champlain Valley is part of the great flyway of migratory waterfowl. Canadian geese, snow geese, and several kinds of ducks pass through the valley on their migrations. The locations given in this guide are public land, but there is much good hunting to be done on the farmland of the area, be sure to ask permission. The seasons and license requirements vary according to species, so check at your field sports store or Fish and Game office.
The Breadloaf Wilderness and Green Mountain National Forest
Hunting is allowed in these areas, and deer are abundant. The larger, more wary bucks often escape into the mountains as hunting season progresses. Good hunting can be accessed off of 125 and the many Forest Service roads which lead off of it.
Directions: To reach the Breadloaf Wilderness/Green Mountain N.F. drive Route 7 South to Route 125. The Green Mountain N.F. begins about 2 miles beyond East Middlebury, and the Breadloaf Wilderness surrounds Middlebury College’s Breadloaf campus.
The Cornwall Swamp
Located Southwest of Middlebury in the towns of Cornwall and Whiting, the Cornwall Swamp is the largest interior wetland complex in Vermont. It provides a rich habitat for deer, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, grey squirrel, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodcock, and black, wood and mallard ducks. As the name implies, however, it is a swamp, and areas of it will suck the boots off your feet. Go prepared with a map, compass and waterproof boots.
Directions: To reach the Cornwall Swamp drive on Route 30 south out of Middlebury. After about 5.5 miles take a left onto the Swamp Road. After 1.5 miles there is a parking area. The W.M.A. now lies to your north.
Snake Mountain Wildlife Management Area
Popular for hiking and mountain biking, Snake Mountain is also home to a Vermont W.M.A. The wooded slopes of the mountain are home to white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, grey squirrel, coyote, bobcat, woodcock, turkey and ruffed grouse. It is also an excellent site for watching red-tailed hawks.
Directions: To reach the Snake Mountain W.M.A. head north through Weybridge on Route 23. After 3.5 miles take a left onto the dirt Prunier Road. This will intersect with the Snake Mountain Road on the east slope of Snake Mountain. The Snake Mountain Road can be followed south to its intersection with the Mountain Road, which provides access to the western side of the mountain.
Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area
Located west of Middlebury in the towns of Addison, Bridgeport and Panton the Dead Creek area is carefully managed to create favorable habitat for a range of animals. Some of its residents are white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, grey squirrel, bobcat, beaver, mink, muskrat, otter, red fox, coyote, raccoon, woodcock, ruffed grouse, black mallard, and wood ducks, blue-winged teal, flocks of migrating Canada and snow geese. There is excellent bird hunting in the W.M.A., but it is also designated as waterfowl refuge. Certain areas are off-limits to hunting, before hunting in any area it is required that you check in with the staff. Over 200 species of birds have been spotted in this area, and it is an unique place for birdwatchers, and birdwatchers who hunt.
Directions: To reach the Dead Creek W.M.A. take Route 23 north to its intersection with Route 17. Turn left and drive west through the crossroads at Addison and down onto the plain of the valley. The W.M.A. is on the left, and the office is well marked.
Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife
The website has season dates, license fees, and downloadable maps and descriptions of every W.M.A. in the state.
Dead Creek WMA Refuge Office
Vermont Field Sports
Route 7 South across from the A&W
A field sports store, but also a place to meet others who hunt, and to draw on the experience of the hunters who work there
Heart and Blood- Living With Deer in America, Richard Nelson
A book about the place of deer in our lives, culture and county by an anthropologist, conservationist and hunter.
A Hunter’s Heart, editor David Petersen
A collection of essays on hunting by people ranging from Edward Abbey to Terry Tempest Williams. Hunting, anti-hunting and ambivalent viewpoints are all represented.
It is astonishing how high and far we can climb in mountains that we love. The life of a mountaineer is favorable to the development of soul-life as well as limb-life, each receiving abundance of exercise and abundance of food. We little suspect the great capacity that our flesh has for knowledge. Oftentimes in climbing canyon walls I have come to polished slopes near the head of precipices that seemed to be too steep to be ventured upon. After scrutinizing them, and carefully noting every dint and scratch that might give hope of a foothold, I have decided that they were unsafe. Yet my limbs, possessing a separate sense, would be of a different opinion, after they also had examined the descent, and confidently have set out to cross the condemned slopes against the remonstrance of my other will. My legs sometimes transport me to camp in the darkness, over cliffs and through bogs and forests that are inaccessible to city legs during the day, even when piloted by the mind which owns them.
– John Muir