Record season for Island deer program

The community cooler received 90 deer in a season with lots of bow hunting and alpha-gal concerns.


The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s Community Deer Cooler, maintained to reduce the Island’s deer population, stored a record 90 deer this year. 

The program has been in place since 2019, and the 90 deer is up from 79 in 2022.

Brian Athearn, a manager at MV Hunt Club, credits the good 2023 season in part to more property owners permitting hunting in order to reduce tick-borne illness

“We picked up a large number of properties that we wouldn’t have gotten had there not been so much concern about tick-borne diseases,” Athearn says. The Hunt Club coordinates hunting opportunities for Islanders.

Athearn credits the MV Tick Program with spreading awareness about the need to reduce the deer population. The program, a regional initiative run by public health biologist Patrick Roden-Reynolds, organizes public discussions and provides research on the tick population.

As it stands now, Roden-Reynolds says that 10 to 12 deer per square mile is ideal to reduce ticks and limit impacts from deer on forests and rare plants. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife estimates that there are at least 50 deer per square mile on the Island, with more in areas closed to hunting.

“Areas that have the high deer densities end up being large tracts of private property where they don’t allow hunting, or have almost no hunting,” he says.

“Whether it’s deer that are destroying landscaping or eating plants, or bringing ticks into the community, that’s where tick problems arise,” Roden-Reynolds says.

Roden-Reynolds, who administered the deer cooler in 2023, helped run the Doe Incentive Program, offering $100 to hunters who bagged 3 or more does.

Overall, the deer hunting season across the Island this past season shows an increase in deer harvested compared to prior years.

State officials report that a total 846 deer were harvested this season on the Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands, up from 829 harvested in 2022. This amounts to somewhat of a rebound. There was a peak of 1,119 deer harvested in 2019, followed by 922 in 2020 and 661 in 2021.

Bow hunting has also increased in popularity. According to MassWildlife, around 300 deer on the Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands were harvested by archery in 2023, up from around 250 in 2022 and just over 200 in 2021. “I think 250 [in 2023] went through our club,” Athearn says.

He also says that many Vineyarders took up bow hunting during COVID-19, which also coincided at that time with more properties being opened to hunting. “With an influx of alpha-gal, a lot of people were rethinking people hunting on their land.”

Athearn says that in his experience, property owners are more likely to permit bow hunting than gun hunting. “If you think about it, does someone want a truckload of people coming out with guns blasting? With a bow and arrow it’s a primal, discreet, clean way to harvest these animals, in a humane way. It’s not the anxiety that animals are going to experience [otherwise].”

Athearn also noted an increase in 2023 in properties cumulatively permitting hunting, allowing hunters to access adjoining private spaces.

“It was just a good season with everyone working together. It was a lot of fun,” Athearn says. “We fed a lot of families. We put a lot of meat in a lot of people’s freezers.”

Hunters must register to use the deer cooler. The cooler also offers a Venison Donation Program, through which hunters who donate venison to select local partners have their cooler fee waived. Read more about the Community Deer Cooler here.

This article was updated to clarify that the cooler stored 90 deer in total last year.


  1. “Whether it’s deer that are destroying landscaping or eating plants, or bringing ticks into the community, that’s where tick problems arise,” Roden-Reynolds says.

    I hope he can explain how Deer eating plants and destroying landscaping have anything to do with “Tick problems.”

  2. Roger, I believe it might have to do with deer having a prolific feeding source on the Vineyard, adding to the population increase.

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