Managing deer in the urban wilds, part 2

The hunt — procedures

Once the selection process is complete, hunters attend an informational meeting where they are given aerial photo/topo maps. After scouting the areas, they submit their date and site selections to HCDRP for a lottery.

Each hunter receives at least six guaranteed hunting dates and has the opportunity to request openings which may occur due to cancellations.

Hunting begins one-half hour before sunrise and continues until 11 a.m. All hunters must check in and out through the HCDRP check station, where biological data is gathered from harvested deer and State possession tags are issued. A daily survey of activity, deer sightings, and harvest data allows staff and hunters to keep up to date on how the hunt is progressing.

The survey data also enables the department to estimate buck/doe ratios and gain knowledge of other wildlife activity in the parks.

As a population management tool, it is important that the hunt focus on the removal of mature does. In overstocked herds, it is the adult females, with the ability to produce twins annually, which are the key to population reduction. HCDRP hunts have always required that hunters harvest two antlerless deer prior to taking an antlered buck. Exemptions from state bag limits have allowed hunters to take as many deer as they desire.

Donations of venison to feed the needy have always been encouraged. A butcher's market that cooperates in the Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry program is only a short drive from the check station. No meat has gone unused. This important detail also helps make the hunt program acceptable to non-hunters in the county.


Since the program began, 604 deer have been taken from 1,300 acres of parkland. During the 2001 season, 126 hunters harvested 164 deer out of the two parks. Statistical analysis of the harvest results and the department's continuing FLIR surveys provide concurring evidence that the desired goal — an ecologically balanced deer herd — is within reach. Though not a specific goal of the department's management program, hunters are reporting a higher percentage of bucks in the population, including an increasing number of mature, trophy-class bucks.

Biological data gathered indicate the deer were generally healthy in both parks. Fat levels, antler beam diameters, and reproductive data indicate adequate nutrition. There was no indication of widespread disease, parasite infestation, or stress. This information is important because it supports the previously mentioned research demonstrating that whitetails damage their habitat long before their populations are regulated by biological influences. It is important to be proactive in efforts to control deer numbers, before excessive harm is done to the forest and other wildlife populations.

Those opposed to hunting, who say that "nature will take care of itself" through disease, reduced reproduction, and starvation, do not understand the ecological costs associated with this approach.

Vegetative studies confirming that the deer harvest is benefiting the forest ecosystem have not yet concluded. However, blueberries, tree seedlings, and other favored deer foods are now being observed where they have not been seen in years. Trees and shrubs that had exhibited the browse line typical of overloaded deer habitat are no longer looking like they were pruned by over-zealous, 4-foot-tall gardeners.

In summary, the managed deer hunt is a socially accepted, safe, and effective tool for the reduction of deer herds in Howard County Parks. The majority of Howard County residents are comfortable with both the usefulness and the safety assurances of the program. The deer herds in the managed parks are approaching ecologically balanced and socially acceptable levels.

This smaller herd has a higher proportion of mature bucks that benefit both hunters and other park users alike.

It must be stressed that maintenance hunts will continue on a regular
basis after the desired population level is reached. Such hunting, with much lower harvest rates, will prevent resurgence of deer populations while minimizing the number of deer killed and the disruption of other park uses.

Lessons for the sportsman

How can deer hunters benefit from this new hunting opportunity? More importantly, how can hunters prepare to speak intelligently, scientifically, and dispassionately to support and encourage such programs in places where deer overabundance is disrupting suburban communities and local forests?

First, it is important to remember that local parks agencies are not developing these programs to provide recreational opportunities for hunters. Many local governments have strict no-hunting laws, but support hunts for management purposes. When selecting hunters, officials are looking for those who have a sound understanding of wildlife management principles.

Hunters familiar with deer population dynamics, forest ecology, and the latest research on fertility control for managing deer are better able to support a deer-hunting proposal before a county council or a town board. A hunter who can articulate the need to reduce the number of breeding females in a population is more likely to be selected for a hunt than one who simply says, "Well, I can't eat horns." Stay informed on the issues and science concerning suburban deer management.

Next, many of the park biologists and managers running local hunting programs are not hunters themselves. An experienced, knowledgeable, and personable hunter who is willing to volunteer to scout stand sites, post signs, or assist at the check station is a tremendous asset to a new hunting program. Such assistance may help determine whether the program continues beyond a pilot stage.

Residents, most of whom are not hunters, will scrutinize the program. These non-hunters need to know that the hunters a few hundred yards from their homes are both law-abiding and safety-conscious. Hunters should expect to go the extra mile to demonstrate they are reliable citizens serving their community.

With a track record of four accident-free seasons, we have begun to turn the deer populations around on parks participating in this program. The results are visible in the communities bordering the parks. Hunters have enjoyed great success in the process, while the deer herds and the lands they occupy are once again approaching ecological balance.


Material from the Quality Deer Management Association.

Visit the web site at www.qdma.com