RUTLAND-Hunting is safe and getting safer in Vermont, according to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' Fish and Wildlife Department. The agency held a "Safe Hunting Kick-off" last week at a meeting to celebrate the cultural and financial importance of Vermont's hunting heritage and to ensure hunting remains safe with the special youth deer season and traditional rifle deer season starting on Nov. 10. "Regulated hunting allows Vermonters to safely utilize wildlife resources in a sustainable manner while helping manage wildlife populations to ensure they are in balance with available habitat and public interests," said agency of Natural Resource Secretary George Crombie. "Hunting has a rich cultural heritage and wildlife management role here in Vermont. It is important to many families and communities throughout the state and has been for generations." Sportsman financed programs have led to the dramatic comeback of many species that had almost disappeared from the state in the late 1800s. The populations of white-tailed deer, moose bear and wild turkey, for example, are now restored to healthy and abundant numbers. Hunters also have provided funding to restore nongame species such as the peregrine falcon, osprey and common loon, making it possible for them be removed from Vermont's endangered species list. "Hunting is safe and getting safer," said Mark Scott, fish and wildlife's education manager. "The average number of yearly hunting accidents has dropped 75 percent since hunter education became mandatory for first-time license buyers in 1975. Vermont Fish and Wildlife-trained volunteer hunter education instructors teach a 12-hour hunter education course to more than 4,500 people annually." "Hunters deserve special recognition for their outstanding contributions to wildlife conservation and the economy of our state," said Douglas. "They continue to provide most of the funding for scientific management of Vermont's fish and wildlife resources, and they help support the economy of our state." Hunters spend more than $189 million annually in Vermont, according to a 2006 National Survey by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. More than 71,000 residents and 11,000 nonresidents purchased Vermont hunting licenses in 2006, up more than 2 percent from the year before. The fish and wildlife department has several programs to help support hunting in the state. Youth hunting and fishing licenses are offered at greatly reduced rates for residents and nonresidents. Youth hunting weekends provide young people opportunities to hunt deer, waterfowl and wild turkey under optimum conditions. One-week Conservation Camp programs for youngsters are offered at Lake Bomoseen in Castleton and Buck Lake in Woodbury with low tuition cost. Vermont's hunter education experts recommend wearing a fluorescent "hunter orange" hat and vest. They also ask that hunters follow the four basic rules of safe hunting: -Treat every gun as if it is loaded. -Point your gun in a safe direction. -Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. -Be sure of your target and beyond. Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department reminds everyone that next weekend marks the 12th straight year for special youth deer hunting in Vermont. "This is a great opportunity for a young Vermonter and their family," said Scott. "A youngster's first deer hunt can mark the beginning of a lifelong passion for the outdoors and a commitment to wildlife conservation. To make the most of your time together, please remember this is a special hunt for the kids, and follow all hunting rules."