"I said, 'Woman, I just shot the biggest buck,'" Cote said. "I was so ecstatic. I kept hugging Brenda, and she was all covered in blood."
Cote, 43, has been hunting since age 8
"I've shot a lot of deer, but that's my trophy," he said.
Walt Driscoll, owner of Northern Wildlife in Island Pond and a member of the Fish and Wildlife Board, said, "The deer are healthy, no doubt."
The deer that have been brought in for mounting have a lot of fat on them, Driscoll said.
Driscoll took a 10-year average of the number of deer reported, and said the 30 he's had reported this year represent half of the average number. "We used to check in 30 the first weekend," he said.
That was backed up by Shari Bent of Currier's Market, which had 62 reported this year. "I know growing up we got that many the first weekend, but not anymore."
That said, the number is pretty much on par with recent years at the popular reporting station, she said.
Currier's, Four Corners Mini Mart in North Troy and Mr. O's Sporting Goods in Newport were the only Orleans County stations to report average or higher numbers this year while stations from Greensboro Bend to Derby reported about half of the numbers from the 2010 season.
"The overall kill in the big woods is down, for whatever reason," Driscoll said. Hunters, he said, are reporting a lot of deer sign in farm country and around towns.
Driscoll had four deer reported that weighed more than 200 pounds and a few 10-pointers, he said. The change in rules has resulted in more older bucks, he said.
"They are a lot smarter, no doubt. But they are in the rut. They get kind of stupid," Driscoll said.
The biggest reported at Northern Wildlife was Ted Alexander's 227-pound, 10-pointer taken in Bloomfield where the Underhill resident has a hunting camp.
At Bob's Quick Stop in Irasburg, Holly Lefebvre said the heaviest deer was David Boomer Jr.'s 232-pound 6-point buck while the biggest racks were three 9-pointers weighing between 135 and 153 pounds.
At E.M. Brown & Sons in Barton, Bob Horton said only two were reported and the biggest was Art Laplante's 127-pound 8-pointer.
Cote had the heaviest buck reported at Currier's. Andy Sicard took a 215-pound 10-pointer while Dennis LaCross' 188-pound 6-pointer is taking the store's buck pool, so far. Hunters have 72 hours to report deer. So Monday's numbers were not final.)
"They've all been really, really nice bucks," Bent said. They had a bunch reported weighing between 180 and 200 pounds.
Barb Mayhew at Four Corners said they had three noteworthy bucks reported: Mark Deslandes' 177-pound 9-pointer, Gregory Lagasse's 222-pound 8-pointer and Brent Grenier's 195-pound 7-pointer.
Ernie Wright's 198-pound 8-pointer taken in Brownington was the largest reported at Lanoue's General Store in Orleans, according to manager E.J. Rowell.
"They're all really good-sized deer," said Valerie Lucier, owner of The Lucier Store in Newport Center.
Lucier said they had a lot of 8-pointers reported but agreed the numbers were down from last year's totals. During the 2010 season, 76 bucks were reported compared to this year's 53, she said. Bow season was way down, Lucier said, with 19 this year compared to 36 last year.
Mike Olden, owner of Mr. O's, said his numbers are way up from last year with 77 reported. A lot of hunters are "ticked off" about no snow for tracking, "but that's hunting," he said.
The two biggest bucks reported at Mr. O's were a 220-pound 8-pointer taken by Mike Breault of Newport Center and a 205-pound 8-pointer taken by Jarret Judd of Derby.
Mary Thompson, owner of Smith's Grocery in Greensboro Bend, said the numbers are way down with only 19 reported compared to between 30 and 40 in past years. Thompson said the numbers for youth weekend were about half of normal years.
The biggest were a 210-pound 7-pointer shot by young Hunter Patten, who also got a 155-pound doe during youth weekend, and a 211-pound 6-pointer taken by Greg Springs of Massachusetts in Wheelock.
Andrew Swett, owner of the Evansville Trading Post, said the numbers are down by about half. The biggest deer he's seen reported was Ray Moore's 197-pound 8-pointer taken in Westmore.
At Wright's Sports Shop in Derby, manager Cecile Coulombe said hunters have only reported 56 bucks this year, and that there was only one reported on the final day -- which is generally a busy day.
At Wright's, the heaviest was Tanner Gobeil's 190-pound 6-pointer, and the biggest rack was a 10-pointer weighing 180 pounds taken by Joe Blake.
Driscoll said he's hoping for colder weather with some snow that sticks around for the upcoming muzzleloader season Dec. 3 to 11.
In Caledonia and Essex counties, local retailers and weigh-in stations report mixed results, but they all agree hunting's popularity is waning.
Gary Ely, Caplan's Army Store manager in St. Johnsbury for 50 years, said Vermont's once hardy hunting tradition has crumbled. Enrollment in the store's deer pool -- an annual tradition since the 1970s -- is sinking like a capsized ship.
"It's been pretty sparse this year," Ely said. "We had about 250 people sign up. We've had as many as 1,300 in years past. The big years were probably the nineties."
The fall came after the proliferation of "No Trespassing" signs. It largely happened in the 1990s when big landowners such as farmers and loggers became the subject of greater state pressures, Ely said.
Despite the decline in hunters and hunting grounds, there may be a silver lining.
"The deer are getting better. They're getting healthier," Ely said.
Mike Chadburn said the same. He's general manager at the Concord weigh-in station Barnie's Market, and the store's soon-to-be owner.
"The deer look healthy and well fed," Chadburn said. "The deer are looking real good."
However, there may be fewer of them.
Barnie's weighed 70 deer this year, Chadburn said. The average is 80.
Barnie's requests that successful hunters donate a few bucks to the St. Johnsbury Santa Fund in exchange for the free weigh-in service. The store raised $200.
Barnie's conducts a deer pool as well. It drew about 75 entrants, which is on track with years past, Chadburn said.
Chadburn also reported that hunting season was good for business. Barnie's sold out of hunting supplies such as ammunition and clothing, and had to reorder.
Rifle season ended with a bang thanks to recent snowfall, Chadburn said.
"The snow brought 'em out pretty good," he said.
Wheelock Village Store, another weigh-in station, saw fewer deer this year as well.
"It was slow," said clerk Lori Ash. "It has been too warm for the deer to move around, I think."
The store weighed 26 deer, which is below average, Ash said.