I’ve hunted, I’ve fished, but I’ve never combined the two. I vaguely remember the sport of shooting fish with bows becoming somewhat popular in the late 1990s, but even that has trickled out. Yet, I recently discovered that the Great State of Vermont had had a hunting fish season for just about forever. From March 25th to May 25th, it’s open season in Vermont for fishermen to grab their mohaska and hit the rivers armed and ready to fish hunt.
Hunting fish with firearms is as odd as it sounds. The rules are pretty slack in some regards. There is no minimum caliber or weapon type. You can use a handgun, shotgun, or rifle. You can use rimfire, FMJs, or hollow points. On the flip side, they are fairly strict with the fish your can shoot. The season allows the Vermonters to hunt the following fish, pike, pickerel, carp, suckers, mullet, bowfin, shad, and carp.
The typical game conservation rules come into effect. You can only bag five fish, and they must be at least 20 inches long. You best be good at estimation before you pull the trigger on that ugly carp staring at you.
Tactics of the Fish Hunt
The tactics of the fish hunt are surprisingly interesting. To me, I just figured you shot a fish, but it turns out that’s for amateurs. If you shoot a fish, it just kind of explodes. This might be caliber dependent, and while rimfire is allowed, I doubt it does a great job of penetrating water deep enough to hit a fish. It turns out the tactic is to shoot right in front of the fish. This creates a concussion effect that kills the fish and allows it to float to the top.
This hunting coincides with the mating season, which brings fish to shallow waters to breed. A tactic used by many fish hunters on the great Vermont fish hunt is to use a fairly high-powered weapon to shoot near a female fish. Optimistically this results in the death of the female fish and a male or two looking to breed.
During the fish hunt months, these magnum-powered anglers will climb into trees overlooking the water, forming a sort of fish blind. Others will ride shotgun in a boat, literally, and some just walk the shores looking for potential prey. Anything close to the water seems to be the better hunting area. This combination of fishing and hunting seems to blend the tactics of both.
The On The Ground Reality
The fish hunt is not popular with regulators. In fact, in 1969, Vermont banned it. However, this upset so many in the state the next year they don’t not only reinstated the season but expanded it to include more fish. Opponents of the fish hunt often cite numerous reasons why it’s a bad idea, including:
Bullet Ricochets Off The Water
Overkilling of Fish Due to Concussion
Disrupting Spring Marsh Ecosystem
Interruption of numerous bird species during nesting season
It’s remained controversial, but it’s not that popular. The culture amongst Vermont outdoorsmen seems to largely ignore the sport. Many may try it once or twice, but it’s not a common thing by any means. In fact, it’s likely to die out if left alone. What seems to occur is that some rumble of prohibition will rear its head, and boom, it’s got all this attention once again with a vocal group of people defending it.
Once it becomes news, we see more people trying it and the sport growing for at least a season. If Vermont really wanted the fish hunt gone, its best bet would be to just shut up about it and let people forget on their own.
The Vermont Fish Hunt is certainly an interesting season. It further establishes that Vermont just might be the bizarro, snow-covered version of Florida.