Pat Sesto

The town of Wilton’s Deer Management Committee has completed its eighth year implementing the recommendations proposed by their predecessor, the Deer Committee. In 2002, the eight pages of recommendations were presented in a final report to the Board of Selectmen, who ultimately approved them. The recommendations focus on reduction of the deer population, public education, legislative changes, property management, and fostering regional efforts.

The Deer Management Committee is comprised of seven volunteer members, with technical and administrative assistance from Wilton’s Department of Environmental Affairs staff. The committee set their initial priorities on conducting controlled hunts, constructing a deer exclosure, public education, and convening a regional alliance. Efforts to convene an alliance were quite successful, and resulted in the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance.

The town worked in the first seven years with controlled hunting.  For Wilton, the first hunt in 2002 utilized one property belonging to South Norwalk Electric and Water (SNEW).  In subsequent years, the hunts have incorporated more land of SNEW, town parks, and land of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust. At its peak, 1,200 acres were made available for controlled hunts. The controlled hunt is comprised of invited bow and firearm hunters that work as a team to support the town’s goal of population reductions. The hunters abide by a prescribed schedule,  hunt from a tree stands, and attend safety training courses sponsored by the town in addition to the state mandated training.

The efficacy of the hunting is evident on the properties that have been hunted five or more years.  Anecdotally, neighbors of the property indicate they are seeing fewer deer and landscape plantings have sustained less browsing.  In the open spaces themselves, evidence of regeneration of oak, hickories, and evergreens is present.  On at least one property, wild columbine was also found.  Collectively, these changes in the vegetation are encouraging and demonstrate that even if townwide hunting is not yet prevalent, hunting can make an ecological difference on a smaller scale.

After our seventh year, the Deer Committee redirected its focus from controlled hunts to a more dedicated effort to increase hunting on private land. In 2010, 36 homeowners signed up to have a hunter referred to their property. Newsletters, press releases and general press coverage dispersed the message to the community that hunting is a safe and responsible way for individuals to do their part to reduce the density of deer. In the past, only large land owners have been contacted by mail to provide direct encouragement and supporting information regarding guidelines to work with a hunter and an overview of state laws.

Recognizing that recreational hunting will be insufficient to get Wilton to its goal of 10-20 deer per sq.mi., the Deer Management Committee continues to work with the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance to safely advance the potential for greater harvests.  An emerging approach is sharpshooting.  Sharpshooting is a strategic undertaking to maximize deer harvests.  This program would operate under a special permit from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and would not be bound by timing, tagging, etc. of recreational hunting.  This is a fee based service for entities that are committed to attaining deer densities low enough to allow healthy forest regeneration and prevent the reproductive success of Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks.