2010: Nontraditional techniques for management of overabundant deer

Anthony DeNicola

There are an increasing number of sites where traditional sport hunting can no longer control deer numbers or where recreational hunters do not have access. This typically occurs in either suburban communities (such as those of Fairfield County and Westchester County) or on corporate or government properties. Some reasons for this are real and perceived safety concerns, firearm discharge ordinances and liability and public relations issues. As a result of the difficulty managing deer in these situations, use of non-traditional techniques to reduce deer densities has increased significantly in the last 20 years.
Nontraditional Techniques include
1) Controlled Hunts using hunters and usually requiring intensive state agency involvement. Typically preferred by wildlife agencies but it can end up being expensive. Cost $160 -$660 per deer
2) Sharpshooting, which has been used with considerable success- cost varies between $91- $260 per deer
3) Capture and Euthanasia- capture using box or Clover traps and subsequent euthanasia can be relatively expensive
4) Contraception- does not work on free ranging deer
5) Capture and relocation- impractical and inhumane as many deer die of stress postrelease. Also there are no places left that will accept deer.

Cooperative efforts between state wildlife agencies and private wildlife management organizations are being developed and evaluated.
One such example is an effort in the town of Moultonborough, New Hampshire- results published in a paper by Dr DeNicola et al Wildlife Society Bulletin 1997, 25 (2):496-499 and summarized below:

Site Description: 500 ha. Long Island in Lake Winnepesaukee, NH, heavily developed with >550 residences. Accessed by 200 m bridge to mainland. 
Management History: Deer hunting outlawed at Long Island since 1939. In 1994 residents asked NH Fish and Game for help to reduce deer. Task Force of concerned citizens formed to define problem and recommend a solution. Price, humaneness and effectiveness were the factors that led to the choice of sharpshooting. A legislative change in 1996 gave NHFG authority to conduct wildlife population control actions on Long Island using whatever means necessary and appropriate.
Field Methods: Permission was granted to access private properties, shooting sites were selected and the properties were legally posted to avoid trespassing. Tree stands or porches were used in areas inaccessible to vehicle or close to houses. In more remote areas bait sites were established along private roadsides to allow shooting from a vehicle. Prebaiting began 3 weeks before the start of herd reduction. The herd reduction was conducted 1-3 November 1996. On afternoons the agents shot over bait from tree stands or porches. After dark, 1 person shot over bait with a night vision scope and another shot with the aid of a spotlight from the back of a pick up truck on a predetermined route. We used suppressed military sniper weapons for precise shot placement. Only head shots were taken to avoid deer dying on adjacent properties.
Results: 90 deer were removed during 3 days (27 hrs) in the field. Approx 1,900 kg of ground venison were donated to the NH Food Bank.
Discussion: The program proceeded as planned and all involved parties were satisfied with the implementation and results. Landowner cooperation and the assistance and oversight of NHFG allowed for a successful herd reduction where traditional management was not considered an option. Wildlife problems in suburban communities will become even more common in the future, and state agencies will not be able to meet the demand with their present level of staffing. Private deer management organizations could cooperate with state wildlife agencies by providing options not previously available because of limited manpower and budget constraints.
Nontraditional management techniques such as sharpshooting can compliment existing deer management by hunters.

Follow up: After significantly reducing the local deer population (40-50 deer remained on the island or 20-25 deer/square mile) the community transitioned to hunters with archery and firearms over bait on select private properties.  They have been able to keep numbers around 30/square mile and it has continued at that level to the present date (2010).  The firearm component has been critical for their ongoing success, archery just keeps some participants happy.  This is a good example of combining methods (professional sharpshooters to get initial deer levels significantly reduced followed by maintenance at acceptable levels for the community using volunteer hunters) and keeping cost minimized.