Commonwealth to extend Vineyard bow hunting season

Deer hunter Phoenix Russell drags her first doe out of the woods. — Photo courtesy Phoenix Russell

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife opted to extend bow hunting season for deer in several wildlife management zones, including zone 13, Dukes County.

The extension covers wildlife zones 10 through 14. Hunting will begin eight weeks before Thanksgiving instead of six weeks before. The extension will not take effect until other state offices have reviewed it. Vineyard tick researchers have lauded the extension as a way to reduce a rampant tick population, but according to state deer and moose biologist David Stainbrook, that’s not what it is designed to do. Stainbrook framed the extension as a modest step toward mitigating deer numbers in Eastern Massachusetts, where the density is greater than the western parts of the state. The extension was not the result of Island lobbying, but came about after a zone 11 hunter made a request about a year ago to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, Stainbrook said.

“We are aware there are high deer numbers on the Island,” he said.

He pointed out one of the big differences between the Vineyard and the rest of the state is that the Island, like Nantucket, is devoid of bobcats, black bears, and coyotes — predators that help to keep deer populations balanced. In the rest of the state, predation from those animals accounts for a 30 percent fawn mortality, he said. When disease and car strikes are factored in for off-Island deer, the fawn mortality rate is 40 percent to 50 percent, he said.

Stainbrook said the extension was “not a silver bullet,” but a small dose of balance. “We can certainly do more on the Island,” he said.

He hopes the regulatory change will receive final approval in time for the coming deer season.

Vineyard biologist Dick Johnson, who recently brought the tick program from the Island boards of health to the county, sent a letter to Fisheries and Wildlife in support of the extension.

“We’ve made a good start,” he said. “I think we can do more, and I think we need to do more if we’re serious about reducing the deer population enough to seriously reduce the tick population.”

The current archery deer season opens across the state six weeks before Thanksgiving, and closes the Saturday after the holiday. The proposed change opens the archery deer season in WMZs 10 through 14 eight weeks before Thanksgiving.