Island deer harvest saw big drop in 2007
The total number of deer claimed by hunters on Martha's Vineyard during the 2007 hunting season dropped greatly from 2006. It is unclear if the lower tally reflects success in reducing the Vineyard deer herd or less hunting effort.
Vineyard deer hunters took a total of 460 deer over the archery, shotgun and muzzleloader seasons in 2007. By contrast, hunters checked in 622 deer in 2006.
The Massachusetts deer-hunting season runs from mid-October to Dec. 31. It includes a six-week archery season, two-week shotgun season, and approximately three-week muzzleloader season. Statewide hunters took 11,576 deer in 2007.
The seasonal deer tally is of interest beyond the hunting fraternity. In communities around the state and country an increase in the number of deer is blamed for heightened incidences of tick-borne diseases, a rise in deer-vehicle collisions, and environmental damage caused by over browsing on young plants.
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) divides the state into 14 wildlife management zones. Deer populations have increased, particularly in suburban areas of eastern Massachusetts. In response, DFW has expanded the length of the hunting seasons and increased the availability of doe permits in select zones in an effort to control deer herds.
At one time a deer license allowed a hunter to take only one buck and he or she had to apply for a doe tag. Hunters now receive a license that allows a hunter to take two bucks. The availability of doe tags depends on the hunting zone.
For example, last month 1,325 hunters entered a lottery to receive one of the 200 doe permits allocated for zone 2, an area in the northwest corner of the state. By contrast most hunters did not even bother to enter the lottery for Martha's Vineyard, zone 13, and Nantucket, zone 14.
The state allocates 2,700 doe permits to each island and permits are readily available during the hunting season at a cost of $5. Wildlife officials upped the availability of doe permits in an effort to cut down on deer densities, which they said posed a public health risk and were responsible for ecological damage.
File photo by Sara Piazza
Increasingly, property owners concerned about tick-borne diseases and not hunters have been the most ardent proponents of increased bag limits. That was the case at a Fisheries and Wildlife public hearing in 2006 on the Vineyard at which representatives of the Tick Task Force, a group of Island residents concerned about the spread of Lyme disease, pushed for an increase in the shotgun season from one to two weeks.
Deer are the primary blood host for the adult deer tick, which is capable of laying thousands of eggs.
Many experienced Vineyard hunters think the state has accomplished its goal of reducing the Vineyard deer herd. "We're killing too many deer," said Brian Welch of Oak Bluffs. Recounting his experience last season, Mr. Welch said he and the group of shotgun hunters he has been hunting with for years found one or two deer in areas where in years past they pushed out five or six.
Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown agrees. The easy availability of doe permits and the high number of deer taken are having an effect, he said.
Both men agree that not all deer shot are checked in as required by law and past harvest numbers have likely been higher. DFW runs a deer checking station the first week of the two-week shotgun season. The rest of the season a deer hunter must find one of several Island officials who check in deer, an exercise that can be logistically problematic during warm weather.
The 2007 deer tally suggests the liberal bag limits may be having an effect on Martha's Vineyard.
In 2006, according to state wildlife officials, Island hunters took 134 deer during the archery season, 416 deer during the two-week shotgun season, and 72 deer during the muzzleloader season.
In 2007, wildlife officials recorded 134 deer during the archery season, 275 deer during the two-week shotgun season, and 51 deer during the muzzleloader season.
According to town reports, the number of hunting licenses town clerks issued did not change dramatically from 2006 to 2007. For example, Edgartown sold 175 licenses last year a drop of ten from the previous year.
In an email, The Times asked Fisheries and Wildlife Deer/Moose Project Leader Sonja Christensen about the drop in numbers. She responded, "I think some of the drop we saw this year relative to last year may be reflective of the increased season that was initiated in 2006. As with many new regulations, we typically see a spike in hunter effort with increased opportunity, and the subsequent year that effort levels off again. This is speculative, however. I have not had a chance to analyze the deer hunter survey this year and that may provide more concrete answers. Either way, we are still over our deer density goal in this area, but it appears that we are closing the gap and successfully reducing deer populations on the Vineyard.
Once again, our goals are established to promote healthy deer herds at both ecological values and social values, allowing continued opportunities for hunting and wildlife viewing, while minimizing risks to human health and safety."
Some states allow hunters to check in deer using a postcard. Ms. Christensen said the current system will be reviewed.
For more information on deer numbers, go to: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/recreation/hunting/deer/deer_harvest_2007.htm.