- Courtesy Of Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
- Instructions on extracting a deer's tooth
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is asking deer hunters to practice some amateur dentistry to help determine the health of the state's herd.
For the seventh consecutive year, officials are asking hunters who kill a buck to yank a middle incisor tooth from the dead animal and send it in for analysis. At the lab, the teeth are cut into cross sections and studied to determine the age of the deer, using a process "similar to counting the rings on trees," said Katherina Gieder, a biometrician and research manager for the department. Measuring the proportion of teeth that fall into each age group leads to a population estimate. That allows the state to make informed herd management decisions.
"If we know the size of the deer [population], we can estimate the density of each region," Gieder said. "And then we can assess whether that density is biologically in balance with the ecosystem or not. Or whether it's changing for another reason that we should have our eyes out for, like climate change-related habitat changes."
The number of deer that hunters see is also tracked.
A video on the department's website provides a tooth-extraction tutorial for hunters. Envelopes to submit them are available at all deer reporting stations across the state. The regular hunting season is already under way and runs through November 27.
The department has studied deer teeth in the lab since 2005 but has only outsourced the work of collecting them to hunters since 2015. Last season, hunters turned in around 3,000 teeth. Based on their analysis, officials estimated that Vermont's deer population was about 128,000.
Biologists also measure deer weight and characteristics of bucks' antlers.
"All that put together, we do get really quality data," Gieder said.