What to do with all those deer.
It's a shame really that so much money and effort is expended on a problem that already has a solution. I've worked on several deer population control efforts and reviewed piles more. In nearly every instance, the parties involved had to go through every step of the process, ignoring the recommendations of wildlife managers and the past experience of others, exhausting all other possibilities before inevitably ending up with the same conclusion.
What We've Learned
Human populations keep sprawling across the landscape and deer populations continue growing in range and number--eventually they collide. Finding ways to control deer numbers, in turn, becomes a daunting task for state wildlife agencies.
The first option usually championed by the non-hunting public is non-lethal means. One technique is trap and transfer, which is extremely expensive and rarely successful. The most recent figures I could obtain put the cost at between $2,000 and $3,000 per animal.
Someone has to foot that bill, and most of the time it's the taxpayers. With ever-escalating tax rates, it's hard to justify spending money on something citizens (hunters) are willing to do for free, and in some cases even pay to do.
Furthermore, it doesn't really work. Research has shown that some animals perish during the process from stress or physical injuries. Still more succumb to stress after being released. And many of the remaining survivors later perish as a direct result of being transferred to a new/foreign environment.
Even if they could survive at a higher rate, where would you put them? Most adjacent or nearby areas have similar problems. With recent proliferation of maladies like CWD and EHD, transporting is ill-advised, and may be illegal.
The other non-lethal means is immunocontraception. The most common contraceptive drugs available require two treatments the first year, followed by an annual booster--for every breeding female in the population. Some treated does may continue to cycle as many as five times. Drugs used to date have moderate to high failure rates, and their use is permitted by the FDA only on an experimental basis and only under tightly controlled circumstances. Additionally, you must prevent all untreated deer from entering the area, or all your efforts are for naught.
That brings us to lethal solutions. The one so often considered first by non-hunters is sharpshooters or culling. This is an effective short-term means of reducing deer numbers. Like transport however, it's very expensive. It's also an irresponsible use of taxpayer's money and a reprehensible abuse of the public trust (deer are public property and therefore owned by the citizens). How is it that those states can deny the public access to a renewable, harvestable, public resource, and a revenue-generating recreational opportunity and then tax them to pay a professional "hit man?"
That brings us to the other lethal method of deer control. This one has been proven over and over to be the most effective, cost-effective, efficient, fair and equitable means of controlling exurban (urban or suburban) deer populations over both the short and long terms. It's bowhunting.
Many of you are probably thinking, "that's all well and good, but how does knowing all this help me to be a more successful hunter?" Consider the equation: success = preparation + opportunity. Too many deer is not a problem; it's an opportunity. Archery hunters are the solution. The difficulty becomes selling yourself, which is made easier through organization and education.
Odds are fairly long for an individual hunter approaching a landowner and asking permission to hunt, particularly in an exurban area. However, the response is often different to an organized group of archery hunters, particularly if the group comes with credentials.
There are numerous ways to approach this. In Maine, for instance, the Maine Bowhunters Association developed a Bowhunters and Landowners Information Program (BLIP). It's applicable statewide, operated in conjunction with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and requires hunters to meet certain prerequisite conditions, including having passed an archery hunter education course. Having the state's blessing and being able to show proficiency and responsibility puts landowners more at ease.
Local bowhunting co-ops are also springing up in exurban areas. They recruit members who can demonstrate experience and responsibility. They then match them with property owners. Most provide their services for free, and many carry insurance that removes any liability from the property owner.
The other key to opening doors is educating the non-hunting public. The information provided above is a good start. Some more helpful resources are listed at the end of this column.
Provide this to individual landowners, communities, schools and local law enforcement agencies (the guys who get called out to car-deer collisions).
This type of hunting is not for everyone. You'll be in and around developed areas, and will likely have more restrictions and conditions placed on you. It also takes more effort. Going the extra mile in demonstrating your willingness to respect exurban landowners could get you into areas where little or no hunting occurs otherwise, and where downtown deer grow old and large.
Guide to Urban Bowhunting: The Guide for Addressing urban Deer Problems with the Use of Responsible Bowhunting. The National Bowhunter Education Foundation.
An Evaluation of Deer Management Options. New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Publication No. DR-11.