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White-tailed deer can carry the COVID-19 virus, but there is little danger to people who hunt animals for their meat, according to Nick Fortin, deer and moose project manager at Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

While it’s possible for deer to transmit the virus to humans, they have mostly been found to transmit the virus to each other, Fortin said, citing recent studies. Deer carry the virus that causes COVID-19 disease and antibodies, but do not become ill with the disease themselves.

“We have known since quite early in the pandemic that deer are potentially susceptible to the virus,” Fortin said. “They are one of the species whose receptor is very similar to that of humans.”

Fortin spoke of the recent studies as Vermont prepares for the regular deer shotgun season, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 13. 31.

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So far, most studies have taken place in more urban areas where deer might come into more frequent contact with humans, Fortin said. No Vermont deer have been tested, so the prevalence of the virus among Vermont deer is unknown.

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Scientists believe humans initially transmitted the virus to deer, but it is not yet known whether deer can transmit the virus to humans, Fortin said.

“But, it is, theoretically, possible,” said Fortin.

A hunter coming into contact with a deer he has killed has a very low risk of contracting COVID-19 from the deer, even if the deer is infected, Fortin said. The virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, but hunters typically do not manipulate parts of a deer’s upper respiratory tract.

“We always recommend that hunters wear gloves when dressing an animal in the field,” said Fortin. “It’s still good practice. I guess I would say that if a hunter is very worried, he could wear a mask when dressing in the field. But again, the risk is extremely low.”

There is no risk that hunters will contract the virus from cooked meat, as cooking the meat thoroughly often rids the meat of any bacteria or viruses that exist when it is raw. Fortin said the hunter would have to eat the lungs or trachea for there to be a risk of contracting the virus, “which doesn’t happen.”

What you need to know about the deer hunting season in Vermont

Fortin said the 2021 hunting season is mostly expected to return to normal after the 2020 season has hit amid a number of COVID-19 restrictions. He recommended hunters practice safe COVID-19 protocols and get vaccinated.

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Hunters must also wear fluorescent orange hats and vests to be visible to other hunters.

Hunters who kill a deer on November 13 or 14 are encouraged to help the state’s deer management program by reporting their deer to a biological checkpoint. These stations are:

  • Buck Stop Mini Mart – 735 Main Street, Bennington.
  • Keith’s Country Store – 4085 United States 7, Pittsford.
  • R&L Archery – 70, rue Smith, Barre.
  • Newfane store – 596 Vermont 30, Newfane.
  • Enosburg West Country Store – 2394 West Enosburg Rd., Enosburg Falls.
  • The old fishing hole – 81 Bridge St., Morristown (Saturday only).
  • Bob’s quick stop – 6196 Vermont 14, Irasbourg.
  • Lead & Tackle Co. – 31 Middle Street, Lyndonville.
  • Village grocery and charcuterie – 4348 Main Street, Waitsfield.
  • Wright Sports Store – 48 Community Dr., Newport.
  • Tyson store – 1786 Vermont 100, Ludlow.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife requires hunters who cannot make it to a reporting station to submit a tooth to a state reporting officer.

Vermont deer hunting dates are:

  • Archery : From Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, except during the regular deer hunting season.
  • Woodless muzzle loader: Permits required. October 28 to October 31.
  • Regular season: November 13 to November 28.
  • Mouth Feeder: From December 4 to 12.

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-310-8585 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.