The Deer Manager

Suburban deer management, in terms of overpopulation, has a specific reactionary formula, that is always facilitated by those with very little knowledge about deer and bowhunting. The politicos do have the best interests of their community at heart but expect sterile and vacuumed results. Bowhunting is not clean, but is essential for suburban areas, where people are coming into conflicts with deer in their backyards. It should be noted, that all hunters are not created equally. Bowhunters specifically can be territorial and jealous by nature requiring more proficiency and experience to be successful. Anyone that has managed a bowhunting program knows very well the balancing act of keeping property owners satisfied while keeping bowhunters in check.

Hunters For Deer is the first not for profit 501(c)(3) bowhunting organization to tackle the overpopulation concerns of deer in residential areas and the first to provide property owners with vetted and insured bowhunters. Our brand of Certified Bowhunters (CBH) are held to higher standards and accountability specific to residential bowhunting. In order to be effective at reducing deer numbers in suburban environments, bowhunters will need access. Secondly, any deer management program (DMP) is only as successful as it’s pool of hunters. If 25% of all hunters harvest 100% of the deer in any given season, the recruitment of successful bowhunters is essential. In Suffolk County, hunters harvest 3,000 deer annually of the 30,000 estimated population in Suffolk County. This harvest rate is not even maintaining the birthrates of these animals on a yearly basis, which is why the DEC is seeking other approaches to managing deer, even if proven unsuccessful.

When starting a deer management program through bowhunting, politicos like to count deer and conduct resident surveys or polls. Let’s face it, if 90% of the community didn’t want the less deer, then a hunting program would never be considered, but the minority is strong willed and very vocal. While numbers are great to give politicians, civics and community leaders a gauge on acceptance, there will alway be a small vocal minority that will do what it takes to stop the hunt. The activists will appear larger in size because of their ability to mobilize and their numbers will appear to grow only because of recruitment from members outside of the community. Pandering to these groups by politicians and local law enforcement agencies only emboldens these people to grow belligerent and act outside the law. The animal rights crowd will harass hunters on their neighbor’s private property and trespass to further their cause, while ironically dictating how their neighbor manages their deer conflicts. There is little that can be done to sway the viewpoint of a person who is motivated by emotion and gives anthropomorphic attributes to animals. Only the local stakeholders voices should be considered.

As communities begin to create a deer management program, they already know why they are looking down this road, it is because there is a public health concern. To keep it short, they have heard the complaints of their residents hitting deer with their cars, having children and pets contracting lyme disease and are tired of the deer eating thousands of dollars a year in ornamental plantings. What is constantly being ignored on Long Island, specifically Suffolk County, is the fact that the overpopulation of deer has become a public health crisis. While no politician wants to be the sounding alarm for such a claim, it is becoming a reality and the situation can no longer be ignored. Communities faced with too many deer need to address the issue by embracing a bowhunting DMP. If neglected, imagine the tourism losses that will occur on the North Fork to it’s vineyards and supporting businesses and the impact to the local businesses on the South Fork that cater to those visiting our great beaches. The economic loss would be catastrophic.

Over the past 4 years, hunters themselves have been the worst advocates for hunting. Most of them do not want competition by other hunters to their prized honey holes. Local hunters do not want outside hunters hunting in their home areas, so they reach out to the politicians, who in return create barriers to exclude the outsiders. Going back to where I mentioned that hunters are territorial, this is validated by their outreach and documented by their harvest reports, which show no doe kills. Most hunters only shoot bucks and few shoot more than 1 1/2 deer per season, which goes against the model for reducing deer numbers. It is a fact that hunters need to reduce 2/3 of the local doe population, in order to be effective at reducing the overall deer population. If a hunter wants to keep other hunters out, so that he can protect his trophy hunting opportunities, then he is part of the overpopulation problem. The unwillingness of a hunter to shoot does proves that their only interest is in trophy hunting people's backyards and not being a steward for conservation. 

Another fact to consider, is all NYS licensed hunters may only take (2) bucks annually and buck tags are NOT consignable, meaning that a hunter can not use the buck tag of a relative, friend or donor. The NYSDEC does make it possible for hunters to access unlimited doe tags for our wildlife management unit 1C (WMU1C), which supports the concept of hunters needing to take more does during the hunting season to effectuate the management goals. When a governing body wishes to create a bowhunting DMP they should consider mandates that force participating hunters to take (2) does, before allowing them to fill their first buck tag and (4) does before allowing them to fill their second. While this may seem unappealing to most hunters, it will attract the most successful hunters, that benefit from access to more hunting opportunities. Another benefit to the hunter is the opportunity to harvest mature deer that have been hiding in these safe havens.

Since the creation of Hunters For Deer’s Need-A-Hunter program, we have always focused on changing the way local hunters hunt. By having restrictions to our program, it puts the hunter in a management mindset, whereas before he was focused on the recreation aspects of hunting. Most hunters find hunting in backyards to not be sporting and the fact is, residential hunting should be considered management not recreation. By forcing hunters to shoot more does, than he normally would, benefits the property owner, supports an effective management plan and promotes reducing deer numbers. HFD has taken our management program a step further by providing our hunters with insurance, doing background checks on our hunters, tabulating harvest and deer condition data and putting our hunters through an archery proficiency test. While every DMP does not have to follow HFD’s program, it would increase you efficacy if you have a forced doe harvest provision. If a hunting group makes claims that they are a deer management company or focus on quality deer management (QDM), then they should have no problem participating under such guidelines.

Now, to be clear, no person, agency or civic organization, has the right to tell a property owner who they must use for their private DMP. Property owners often have relatives or friends that hunt, but should know that shooting only bucks is not effective at reducing their conflicts with deer. Municipalities dealing with local deer issues, should note, that deer are the property of the state, to be managed by the state, not the township or village and state law preempts local laws in regards to bowhunting regulations. Anyone with a NYS hunting license should be permitted to harvest deer anywhere in the state, where they have permission on private property or on state owned lands, where hunting is permitted. While county and town owned properties can regulate access to residents only, they do not have the right to dictate who can hunt on person’s private property as that is the right of the property owner and any interference in that should be considered a poor management practice. HFD has always operated our DMP according to the goals the property owner. It is the property owner that should dictate the program, but with respect to goals of the DMP and the consideration of attracting the most successful hunters to take as many deer needed to bring balance to the property.

Running a DMP is a difficult balancing act. A deer manager has to take into consideration the goals of the property owner, the demands of the property and the management of the hunter. lf a hunter is not seeing deer on a property or the restrictions on the property are too great, ( i.e.: can only hunt Monday and Thursday mornings), then the property may receive little attention by the hunter, due to his schedule or the lack of deer sightings. If the property owner is having conflicts with bucks on his property and the hunter already filled his buck tags, then another hunter will be needed to effectuate the property owner’s goals. Imagine the neighbor next door does not support hunting and harasses the hunter next door every time they are in the stand? Just because you can hunt on a property, does not give you access to adjacent land and no enforcement agency can compel a property owner to give a hunter access to his game. While working with neighbors is important, any DMP has it’s limitations and setbacks, and cooperation between neighbors can divide a community and create obstacles.

In 2014, the NYSDEC reduced the bowhunting setbacks from 500’ to 150’ from any dwelling. What this means is that if a property owner gives a hunter permission to hunt their property, that hunter may not set his stand, within 150’ of the neighbors house that does not want hunting or give the hunter consent to be within the setbacks. This is very important because this rule change often gets misconstrued. If a hunter has permission to be within the setbacks, then he can literally shoot deer from the deck of that residence. Remember we are discussing deer management in suburban areas, not big woods recreational hunting. Since the setback reduction, 60% more hunting opportunities have opened up in residential areas. Prior to this change, one property owner can dictate whether or not a neighbor can have a bowhunting program on their property. Picture a cul de sac neighborhood, where one homeowner does not want hunting, while the rest of the block does. Essentially, that one person can shut down hunting for all, if they do not want a hunter within the old 500’ setback. Outside of setbacks, we have seen one neighbor that does not support hunting, also shut down the hunting program on the property of their neighbor that wants less deer conflicts. The antagonist created a dispute by being annoying and creating false narratives to local politicians to further their agenda. While the balancing act is a tough one to approach, any DMP needs the support of the majority of the residents, enforcement of laws by local law enforcement and DEC. To reiterate, no one had the right to tell another property owner how they should deal with the conflicts created by nuisance deer on their property.

In the end, bowhunting in residential areas is the only effective method at reducing deer numbers, although it is not perfect. Deer do not fall over when they are hit by an arrow and they can travel some ways during the attempt at harvesting them. Deer have the potential to end up dead on properties, that do not support hunting, just like they will when struck by cars. Because deer numbers have increased dramatically over the past 13 years, we will continue to see deer show up, where we have never seen them before. Deer will continue to come into conflicts with people until there are less of them in an area. People will eventually become intolerable of the damage that deer create and the effects of tick born illness that they bring. Doing nothing to reduce deer populations in Suffolk County is not an option. Deer are becoming a public health crisis and destroying the habitat of other species. Bowhunting is the only answer in reducing residential deer conflicts. How the DMP is run and how hunters view their role is equally important, but what a hunter does in the field weighs heavily on the success of the program. Education is equally important in garnering acceptance to hunting because jealous hunters and animal activist will only create obstacles to any DMP. It is important that the residents of any community with deer issues know all of the information. Secret meetings with trophy hunting groups and politicians does not help a community. There will be conflicts from bowhunting, but as long as the laws are followed and hunters are held accountable, communities will benefit from a bowhunting deer management program.