Hunters blast added shotgun week proposal
Bambi and Thumper had reason to be confused listening to the testimony Tuesday at a state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) board hearing on a proposal to extend the Island's deer shotgun season by one week.
Hunters criticized the plan to extend the shotgun season from six to 12 days. And non-hunters supported the proposal and advocated killing as many deer as possible.
Not that Island hunters had suddenly decided to follow the vegetarian path. Those hunters who spoke still wanted to be able to kill deer, but they had their own ideas about the best methods and time of the year to do it.
Walter Ashley testified against the proposal. Photos by Ralph Stewart
What was evident throughout the hour of public testimony is that growing concerns about tick-borne diseases and an expanding deer population have created a new political landscape for professional wildlife managers. Although opinions varied, not one of more than a dozen speakers criticized hunting, during the board meeting in the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven.
Wayne MacCallum, MassWildlife director, began the hearing by introducing the members of the board, including chairman George Darey of Lenox. A vote on the proposal to extend the shotgun season, including whether to implement the change this season, is expected when the board meets on June 22 in Belchertown.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Darey said the board had heard some good testimony and would weigh the advice of the staff and the best interests of the community in reaching a decision.
Only Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, two of the state's 15 hunting zones, have a one-week shotgun season. The rest of the state has a two-week season that typically begins after Thanksgiving weekend.
In a brief visual presentation Tuesday afternoon, Bill Woytek, MassWildlife deer project leader, presented historical data to bolster the view that expanding the shotgun season would prove to be an effective management tool for reducing deer on the Island. He said that if allowed to work, hunting could be used to manage the herd.
Mr. Woytek provided one caveat. He said that if towns, private property owners, and non-profit organizations did not provide access for hunters, it would be difficult to reduce the density of deer.
Whit Manter addresses the board.
One of those listening closely in the audience was Dick Johnson, executive director of the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, a conservation group that controls more than 2,000 acres and does not allow hunting. Following the hearing, Mr. Johnson told The Times that the foundation board is actively discussing the issue of hunter access.
There was general agreement Tuesday that deer management has become a matter of public health, particularly with regard to tick-borne diseases. But those in the room were divided regarding the proposal on the table.
While many of the non-hunters said they were willing to defer to the hunters regarding the best strategies for taking deer, several questioned what they saw as the downside of adding a second week of shotgun hunting.
Two West Tisbury selectmen, Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter, who suggested regulations that would force hunters to target does, and Glenn Hearn, who said he agreed it is necessary to act now, were the only elected town officials in attendance who spoke. Mr. Hearn also suggested the board consider special permits that would allow hunters to take deer outside the regular season.
Hunters know best
The shotgun season follows the six-week archery season and precedes the two and a half week muzzleloader season. Each season has its adherents among hunters, depending on their skills and preferences.
Archers, who must get close to their quarry and have a high degree of skill, tend not to disturb the deer or nearby property owners when hunting on smaller properties. The sport has grown in popularity in part because archers are more likely to gain access to properties closed to shotguns.
Muzzleloaders are extremely accurate up to 100 yards, but only offer the hunter one shot. Most shotgun hunters use weapons capable of firing five shells in rapid succession.
Speaking against the proposal to extend the season, Walter Ashley of Oak Bluffs, a firearms instructor and experienced hunter, said property access is a frustrating problem. "If we don't have access, we can't shoot them, it's as simple as that," he said.
Soon after the shotgun season begins and groups of hunters take to the woods, deer seek thick cover and often become nocturnal in their feeding habits, making locating deer difficult. On a practical level, Mr. Ashley said adding a second week of shotgun would not provide an opportunity for deer to settle down in the woods, making it harder for hunters using muzzleloaders.
Mr. Ashley said he did not think there was support for the proposal among Island hunters. He said that if members of the tick task force, an ad hoc citizens group that support reducing deer, would work with hunters, other solutions could be found.
"You people that don't hunt," said Mr. Ashley, "I know you want this, and we have got to do something, but we're the ones that have got to do it."
Whit Manter of West Tisbury said he had been a deer hunter for more than 35 years but was against the proposal. Speaking from the perspective of a caretaker for hundreds of acres of up-Island property, Mr. Manter said that while the number of deer is a problem and had reached a socially unacceptable level, "shotgun hunting has also reached its socially acceptable limit."
He recommended maintaining a concentrated six-day season but move it to the second week after Thanksgiving because seasonal residents visiting for an extended holiday, who might otherwise allow hunting when they were absent, were often still on the Vineyard during the first days of deer week.
Paul Jackson of Edgartown, a well-known Island hunter, said he had hunted deer since 1949. He urged the board to provide an extra week of muzzle loading during the first week of January when the Island is less crowded and the deer are easier to pattern.
For the non-hunters in the room, the finer tactics of killing deer was less important than achieving the end result: fewer deer; fewer ticks, and a lower risk to the human population, if not now then in the future.
Describing some of his experiences over a long Island medical career until his retirement, Dr. Russell Hoxsie said that reducing deer is the key to reducing ticks. He said he favored the proposal.
Speaking for the tick task force, Sam Feldman of Chilmark said the crippling effects of tick-borne diseases could eventually affect the Island's tourist economy. He agreed that there needed to be more communication with hunters but asked where the risk is in extending the season.
Tim Boland, a botanist and director of the Polly Hill Arboretum, said the deer were also having an affect on the Island's plant life. "What we are witnessing," he said, "is the disappearance of species by an overabundance of grazing by white-tail deer."
Sam Telford, a research scientist who has studied ticks on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, described the extended season as a necessary first step. "We have heard comments from the hunters as to how things could be managed a little more effectively, but I think we don't want to be bogged down trying to find the perfect solution," he said. "We need to act now, we have waited too long."
Mr. Telford said that even 25 to 50 extra deer killed each year might seem small but would mean a lot in the long term in terms of cutting down the incidences of tick-borne disease. "It is our children and their children that will benefit," said Mr. Telford, who urged those present to "take the long view."
Written testimony will be accepted until June 6 and should be addressed to Chairman, Fisheries and Wildlife Board, c/o Wayne MacCallum, MassWildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd, Westborough MA 01581.