Gone hunting: Island hunters prepare for the seasonal switch


As temperatures drop and acorns begin to fall, many Island sportsmen look forward to the start of hunting season. The seasonal segue from fishing rod to shotgun and bow happens quickly on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby ends this Saturday. The one-week early duck and goose season begins the same day, as does the six-week pheasant season. On Monday, deer hunting begins with a six-week archery season followed by shotgun and muzzle-loader seasons.

Although many fishermen will continue to enjoy great fishing for bluefish and striped bass into November, for many, the end of the Derby signals a distinct shift in focus. It is time to bring out the hunting clothes and anticipate replenishing the freezer.

Many hunters began preparing for the hunting season months ago. Those who did not prepare risk missing the shot, wounding an animal or, worse, injuring themselves or others.

It is also time to become familiar with changes in 2012 state hunting regulations and licensing procedures. Most all transactions are now done online.

Preparation is a key

The modern compound bow is a complicated and very efficient instrument. It can propel a razor-tipped arrow at a blazing 340-feet per second.

But speed is less a factor in successfully harvesting a deer than arrow placement. Shoot a deer in the lungs or heart and it will not travel far. Miss a vital zone and you may track the deer for hours, or not recover it.

Reedy’s Archery shop in Middleboro is a very busy place this time of the year. Over 20 years, owner Chris Reed has built a reputation on professional customer service and the shop caters to a large Island clientele.

Chris said he commonly sees archers and bows that are not prepared for the season. “People don’t think about what they are doing,” he said in a telephone call Tuesday.

The modern bow relies on an equation built on draw weight, an archer’s shooting form, and precise mechanical alignment of the arrow rest, peep sight and bow sight. All too often, Chris said he sees bows that are not properly set up.

Setting up a bow is not a job for amateurs. But no matter how precise a bow is set up to shoot an arrow, it takes practice to hit the mark. “You’ve got to shoot your bow,” Chris said. He recommends archers concentrate on making quality shots during practice sessions rather than a great a quantity of shots.

He said it is best for hunters to stay within their comfort limits. If a hunter is confident taking a shot within 20 yards, that is what he or she should stick with, he said.

Successfully bagging a deer is not simply a case of placing the bow sight pin on a deer and releasing an arrow. The archer must focus on a vital spot and take careful, precise aim. “Go slow and think about your shot,” Chris advised.

Walter Ashley of Oak Bluffs is an experienced Island hunter and former hunting safety instructor. He began practicing with his bow months ago. He said that archers must be familiar with shot placement and how their equipment functions. “The guy that just goes and blows dust off his bow or buys a new one today, just because the archery shop set it up for him, he still needs to learn to shoot it, get the poundage right and everything else,” he said.

Walter said archers need to practice, and continue to practice throughout the season. Hunting clothing and dropping temperatures can affect the ability of a hunter to draw the bow. “You practice on the ground, then you get up in your tree stand with all your little fancy clothes on and everything changes again,” he said.

Bow poundage, the amount of effort needed to pull the bow string back, affects arrow flight and speed, and can vary greatly. Drawing a bow set at 70 pounds requires a lot more effort than a bow set at 55 pounds.

Walter agrees that shot placement trumps arrow speed. “A lot of these guys want to be macho and got to have an arrow that goes 900 miles per hour,” he said. “We used to do it with 40-pound bows, but you got to hit them in the right spot.”

With trees full of acorns, Walter predicts that hunters will need to work harder to pattern deer movements because they will not have to move far to feed. “They don’t have to move,” Walter said. “They just sit there, open their mouth and let them fall down.”

Record season

It will be hard to top the 2011 archery season, when a lack of acorns had deer on the move. Hunters took an Island record 214 deer, a 20 percent increase over the 2010 season.

Fair weather and plenty of deer helped push the shotgun season to a record total of 454, a 41 percent increase over 2010.

The muzzle-loader season accounted for a record 124 deer, a 73 percent increase over the 2010 season.

In total, Island hunters took 792 deer, a 39 percent increase over 2010 and a new Island record.

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) deer project leader David Stainbrook said the high harvest is good news and reflects state efforts to keep the Island deer harvest in check.

Since deer population growth rates can exceed 30 percent annually, hunters provide a unique service in helping us achieve our population density goals, according to DFW.

Increasingly, nonhunters and property owners have taken an interest in deer management. Deer densities are linked to an increase in tick-borne diseases and deer-vehicle collisions.

Nimrod undone

Last year, hunters were propelled into the computer age willingly or not when the state switched to an online licensing system.

Hunters can purchase a hunting license and doe permits online (mass.gov/dfwele/licensing/index.htm) or through a licensed vendor. On Martha’s Vineyard, only the West Tisbury and Chilmark town clerks have taken the steps to become licensed vendors.

Doe permits were previously available at the county offices. Dukes County manager Martina Thornton said Tuesday that with the approval of the county commissioners the county would take steps to become a licensed vendor. Hunters without computer skills can also try to find a helpful librarian and log on to the state website.

Doe permits are allocated by zone. In some western districts of the state where deer densities are low, permits are distributed by lottery.

That is not the case on Martha’s Vineyard (zone 13) where doe permits are available on request. And in a recent regulatory change, DFW upped the number of doe permits a hunter can posses at one time from two to four. Hunters can now also possess four deer at one time before they must go to a check station.

Doe permits became available Tuesday. But high demand and a computer glitch created turmoil for DFW. Hopefully, the system will be working by Monday.

DFW had hoped to have a system in place to allow hunters to check deer in online. Problems with that system have pushed the start date back to the 2013 season. As a result hunters will need to continue to check deer in at one of several Island check stations — Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown, the State Forest headquarters and the Wampanoag Tribal Headquarters in Aquinnah.