Secrets Of Suburban Deer Management Revealed

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife district director Pat Huckery was on hand at the annual Westford Conservation Trust meeting to help detail the challenges and importance of managing local deer populations.

The State of Massachusetts is currently well into deer hunting season, and last night at the , members of the Westford Conservation Trust were on the hunt for new knowledge as they heard from suburban deer management specialist Pat Huckery.

Huckery, the northeastern Massachusetts district director for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW), spent two hours discussing the importance of controlling the deer population in areas such as Westford, where the loss of natural predators outside of man have made unbalanced deer populations highly disruptive influences on local ecosystems.

 “When deer reach high densities in area such as inside Route 495 there are issues that arise such as impacts on forests, deer vehicle collisions, tickborne diseases and damage to local property,” said Huckery.

During the talk, Huckery defined the threshold for where deer can begin to do significant damage to local habitats as 20 deer per square mile, a number that is approximately twice the goal that the DFW has set for the two “Wildlife Management Zones” that cut through Westford.

However, Huckery made it clear that reducing the deer population by too much would be just as harmful to the local environment as if no hunting was done at all.

“Deer are a wonderful natural resource, it’s a keystone species,” she said. “(but) in high density, they’ll have an impact on a forest. Mice aren’t going to do that, squirrels aren’t going to do that.”

Huckery described a wide variety of methods other towns and regions in the state have kept the deer population in check while also detailing some obstacles that certain areas face, such as local bylaws that limit firearm discharge in areas where deer might be found, .

While Westford Conservation Trust president William Morton noted that he was opposed to changing Westford’s firearm bylaws, he believes that local deer overpopulation is a significant problem for the town.

“In neighborhoods (deer) are all over the place,” said Morton. “My parents live in the center of town, and they get a dozen deer they get going through their yard regularly.”

But regardless of views on the issue, the event was informational, even if it didn’t end in as much dialogue on the topic as Morton would have liked.

“Listening to some of the questions asked afterward, everything had to do with what was said, which makes me think everybody was really intently listening,” said Morton. “I just expected more discussion because it’s something everybody in town is talking about.”

The event was part of the Westford Conservation Trust’s annual meeting, where earlier in the night the organization also awarded the 2011 Conservation Trustee Award to Frank Winters and unanimously reelected the board’s officers for another year.

Tris Dammin November 04, 2011 at 11:00 AM
Mr Sylvia, I did not see in the article any specific methods for managing the deer herd in suburban areas. In this state, shooting is not allowed within 500 feet of an occupied building; this law limits herd culling in relatively thickly settled suburbs. Of interest, to reduce tick population and the incidence of the diseases for which the tick is the vector, researchers recommend managing the herd with a figure of 10 deer/sq mi. This number would be especially hard to achieve in suburbs and in town areas. Tris Dammin
R Gagnon November 04, 2011 at 11:28 AM
Bow hunting is a safe and effective way to cull the deer population. Technically, it is not a firearm. It can be safely discharged withing 500 ft. of a building. Also, most bow hunting is done from a tree stand where the archer is about 15 or more feet above the ground. Most shots are taken within 20 yards. This causes a downward trajectory for the arrow. Because of the close up shot distance and downward trajectory of the shot, the target is clearly identified and the risk of errant shots flying through the woods is eliminated. As I said, bow hunting is safe and effective.
Cooper November 04, 2011 at 12:33 PM
I suspect that local bylaws that limit firearm discharge have more to do with anti-hunting bigotry than they do with safety. And bowhunters could certainly manage deer herds safely and provide meat for their families as well. Seems an obvious solution.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) November 04, 2011 at 01:04 PM
Thanks Tris, The link in that sentence describes the firearm bylaw in town. Please let me know if I can clarify further.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) November 04, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Also, just put in a link in the lede specifying the separate time frames for particular weapons during deer hunting season. Huckery also mentioned fences and harassment as non-lethal methods.
Tracy LeBlanc November 04, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Anit-hunting bigotry? Please explain...
R Gagnon November 04, 2011 at 03:55 PM
State and federal law regulate firearm safety. MA Fish and Game regulate hunting seasons and what weapons are used when. Additional local ordinances like the one in Westford that says you have to have the landowner's written permission to discharge a firearm on his property is a local law that only makes it more difficult to hunt. State law says that if a property owner does not want hunting on his land, it is the responsibility of the property owner to post his property accordingly. What Westford does is put it on the hunter to knock on doors and request permission to hunt the property owners' land even if it is not posted as no hunting. Also, if there is a possibility that the hunter may cross property boundaries, he better make sure he has written permission from that property owner too. Westford's firearms bylaw does nothing to improve hunting safety. State and federal gun safety laws that regulate how you carry a weapon and where you can discharge a weapon still apply. All Westford does is force hunters to knock on doors they would otherwise not have to. The local ordinance does nothing except make it more difficult to hunt. Thus, the anti-hunting bigotry.
Tracy LeBlanc November 04, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I take it you're a hunter. Can't you go somewhere less populated?
R Gagnon November 04, 2011 at 04:42 PM
I am an archer. Having hunters go somewhere less populated does nothing to solve the health and safety issues that are caused by an overpopulation of deer in Westford that were mentioned in the article. The topic was not the pros and cons of hunting. Some people are passionate about hunting. Some are passionately against it. The article was about the problems that come about by an overpopulation of deer and some ways to control it. Hunting is just one effective and safe way. Also, every deer harvested by a hunter is is checked in with the Fish and Game department, weight and gender recorded. That information is used to monitor the herd and regulate the number of deer tags the MA Fish and Game dept issues for any particular zone the following year. And, the hunters put meet on their tables as well as give it away to people who otherwise could not afford it. When a hunter harvests a deer, none of the meat is wasted. When a deer is struck by a vehicle, not only is the driver and passengers put at risk, more often than not the meat is so bruzed and torn up is is ruined.
Maggie November 04, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Whether it's a bow and arrow or shotgun it is a WEAPON.....created to kill. It will kill deer or humans. Instead of treating the overpopulation with weapons - look into controlling the herds through birth control! Because of Westford's size and population it's not a safe place to hunt.
Maggie November 04, 2011 at 07:22 PM
Here is an article from the Audobon: http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/webstories/deer_birth_control.html
Tracy LeBlanc November 04, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Thank you for the suggestion, Maggie. I don't want to start a heated debate about hunting. I think it distracts us from the topic at hand. I am sorry to say I did not attend the meeting. I would like to have been there to hear more about the "damage" the deer population incurs in town. I love seeing deer in town. I have happened upon them crossing busy streets, however, and I can understand the concern about auto collisions. Thank you Patch for keeping us updated!
R Gagnon November 04, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Maggie, that's a nice idea about the contraception. I remember back around '02 (check the date of the article) it was being tried. Perhaps you might follow through a bit and find out how the contraception plan worked out. I know because I follow such things all the time but I wouldn't want to spoil your fun. Suffice it to say, hunting is a more practical method of controlling the deer population. I can't speak to the accuracy of the article regarding the poorly hit deer or for the "hunters" who allegedly shot them so poorly. Except for the hunters mentioned in the article (where did they come from?) and a few yahoos you might read about in the paper, the vast majority of hunters want a quick, ethical and humane kill. If they see game in the woods and don't feel confident about the shot, that animal gets to live another day. Hunters do not have a blood lust. They have a taste for the meet and a knowledge and love for the animals they are pursuing. I know that's hard to understand for a non-hunter. You should talk to some of them about it. And when you do, keep in mind the fact that the meet that you buy at the grocery store didn't grow on that little white plastic plate. Someone killed that animal for you. All you did was put the supply chain between yourself and the blood.
Maggie November 05, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Tracy I'm not looking for a heated debate either! Just alternatives. No solution is perfect - but human safety HAS to be the priority. I realize most hunters are very safety minded - but in densly populated areas it's just too risky.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) November 05, 2011 at 01:11 AM
It sounds like I need to follow up on the issue of deer in town! If anyone can point me in a good direction toward where to start, let me know, but in the meantime I found an interesting deer related link from Florida today (http://tinyurl.com/6zl53uc)
Maggie November 05, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Please R Gagnon, I know perfectly well where that meAt on those little white styrofoam plates came from....and it wasn't from someone running around in my back yard with a weapon hunting cows! And yes I do have very close relatives that hunt and guess what? They don't hunt in densly populated areas. They plan trips to NH, ME, & VT and hunt where no humans live! Let's just agree to disagree....you have your opinion and I have mine. I cannot answer your questions above - I did not write the article - I just offered it as an alternative. It wasn't too many years ago....right here in Westford a hunter in the Kennedy Pond area shot a deer.....didn't kill it....the wounded deer ran out of the forest and down the middle of Vinebrook Road ....the hunter close behind shooting his gun as he persued the deer! There's a true story of a poorly hit deer! Maybe you could start a new trend.....have a farm and raise deer and sell the meat at grocery store on little white plates right next to the beef! Then you could have your deer and eat it too!
Maggie November 05, 2011 at 01:50 AM
R Gagnon please I know perfectly well where the meAt on those white styrofoam plates came from - and it was not from a hunter running around in my back yard hunting cows! I do have relatives that hunt and I have no problem with it. They plantrips to VT, NH, & ME far away from where people live. I cannot offeranswers to your questions re the article - I did not write it. I only offered this as an alternative. No solution will be ageeable by all. Let's just Agee to disagree. Regarding poorly hit deer - here's a true story from right here in Westford. A hunter shot a deer in the Kennedy Pond area...wounded it...the bleeding deer ran from the woods right down Vinebrook Road...hunter in persuit firing as he ran! Here's an idea - start a farm raising deer - then you can sell the meat next to the beef in the store! You can have your deer and eat it too!
Tris Dammin November 05, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Birth control is difficult. The deer have to be inoculated twice a year. To inoculate and then tag the deer so you can find the same deer and inoculate it again is time consuming to say the least and quite expensive.
John LeBlanc November 06, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Maggie, try and not get so bitter. It doesn't solve anything. Most hunters are good people with high standards of morals. Yes shooting shotguns in a neighborhood is a very bad Idea. Archery is safe if the hunter is in a tree stand. Many towns have had "control" hunts with archery as the the method of hunting. Archers can prove their skills to state wildlife officers by a shooting demonsrtation. It's been done in other towns. The other option is a state approved sharp shooter. I believe that by using this method all meat is donated to food pantry's
Maggie November 07, 2011 at 03:32 PM
John I don't get it. Someone disagrees with you and you think they are bitter? I don't consider you bitter so please open your mind and afford others the right to their opinion! Archery kills, therefore not safe. State approved sharp shooters is a much better idea - I agree!
Tracy LeBlanc November 07, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Does anyone know the numbers? Are we currently over the limit of 20 deer per square mile (as mentioned in the article) where the deer population is currently doing harm? I would think that the measure we use to "control" the population would be dependent on the size of the problem.
R Gagnon November 07, 2011 at 06:00 PM
"Archery kills, therefore not safe" Spoken like a person who has never had a bow in her hand. Nevermind discharging an actual fire arm. Archery is an effective hunting tool for some and a very pleasurable past time for others. And, often times both. It is at least as safe as any outdoor activity. When you want to try your hand at shooting a bow, let me know. I won't pass any judgements on your hobby without trying it. I would appreciate if others would extend the same courtesy. I know that there is nothing anybody could say about using hunting as a means of controlling the deer herd wiothoput somebody coming around with "true" stories of people running down the street firing at a wounded deer. While a hunter may have followed a mortaly wounded deer as is a perfectly and expected activity once the animal has been hit, I can tell you that NOBODY DISCHARGED ANY FIREARM OR BOW in the middle of the street while chasing the deer. It just DID NOT happen as it was described.
Maggie November 08, 2011 at 12:54 PM
You're right R Gagnon I have never had a bow in my hand or fired a gun.....and don't see myself doing so anytime in the near future. I have no problem with your hobby - really - just enjoy it where people are not living in close proximity! I attended the meeting in Westford on the hunting issue in the late 1980's early 1990's and a resident living on Vinebrook Road told the story of the wounded deer witnessed from the window of his home. I'm sure, if researched, the meeting and the minutes will verify.
R Gagnon November 08, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Just because the minutes verify the story was told doesn't make the story true. Many anti-hunting people make up stories like the Vinebrook Rd incident and that article's mention of deer with arrows sticking out of their haunches. All BS. Never happened. And neither did a bunch of untrained hunters on mountain bikes making enough perfect shots with contraceptives to make any kind of difference in the propagation of a particular herd. Deer contraception was exposed as the scam it really is years ago. When you parse through the anecdotes and outright falsehoods, what is left is the fact that hunting is a safe and effective way to control the deer herds and bow hunting is a safe way to do that in densely populated areas. Before commenting on any such activities, perhaps one might do a little research (other than a quick Google search) to learn something about it rather than tossing myths around as fact. Anybody who has been paying attention knows right away what is BS and what is factual.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) November 08, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Hey guys, This is a great conversation, just a heads up, Patch doesn't allow obscenity or even abbreviated obscenity. I want to let it slide though because this has been a great back and forth, just wanted to give a warning: there are kids reading this, after all.
Maggie November 09, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Be my guest....do the research! Many towns are faced with this dilemma and more than one solution needs to investigated. I am not proclaiming I know the "best" solution....only saying all options or ideas need to be researched and considered. I am NOT anti-hunting, I believe it is a sport enjoyed by many, and has a time a place. NASCAR does not hold races on local roads and highways - for the same reason, hunting in densely populated areas - would be a safety concern.
R Gagnon November 09, 2011 at 03:32 PM
What you have put forth as a possible solution has already been proven to be ineffective. The article you put up about contraception for deer is full of half truths and complete falsehoods. Anything concerning wildlife management that is put out by the SPCA, be it national or at the state level, is suspect. They consider hunting to be inhumane with no knowledge of the subject and present it as such to equally uninformed readers who drink their kool-ade while patting their cats and lap dogs. What has already been demonstrated to be a viable solution, you rule out with "Archery kills, therefore not safe" and a made up tale of some guy running down a local street firing at a wounded deer. Not a very open or informed discussion.
Maggie November 09, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Gagnon this is my last comment to you. I (and I repeat I) did not make the story up about the wounded deer! If you want to believe it was made up....that's your right. Unless it can be PROVEN NOT to be true.....you cannot say it's false. You obviously have tunnel vision and can only see YOUR way. Archery used in hunting has the intention to kill deer, therefore it kills! How else would you bring the meat home! I'm sorry you could not understand the comment and feel the need to twist words around to make it come out the way you like! I still love the idea of deer farms! :)
R Gagnon November 09, 2011 at 10:30 PM
you said "Archery kills, therefore not safe". I disagree with the safety part of your remark, based on personal experience with the weapons. You see, I have bows and shoot them often, sometimes in my back yard. For the reasons I stated above, shot distance, target identification and shot angle, archery is a very safe way to cull a deer herd in a populated area. You counter that with a story somebody presented as fact at a meeting over 10 years ago. I can tell you without a doubt that the guy's story was a complete falsehood. While it is quite possible that someone saw a hunter tracking a wounded deer, he NEVER fired his weapon while running down the street. If that did happen, I would have heard of it. But it did not and for you to present that story in the context of this discussion was nothing more than an attempt to sway people who know as little as you about the subject into thinking archery hunting is dangerous to the general public. That is just not the case. There are deer farms and I know of an elk farm in West Paris Maine. That's great if you want the meet without drawing blood (yourself). But it does nothing to resolve the problems that an over population of deer bring to the area so is irrelevant to the discussion.


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