Status of Massachusetts deer herd discussed

Recently, David Stainbrook, Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Director of the Deer and Moose Project and Dr. Robert Deblinger, Deputy Director of DFW gave a presentation at the Lee Sportsmen’s Association dealing with the deer herd in Massachusetts. Deblinger introduced Stainbrook as an “incredible scientist” who is a population dynamics modeler. This truly is rocket science, he said, and asked Stainbrook to explain it to the attendees. “I am really proud of the Massachusetts deer management program”, said Deblinger.
Stainbrook discussed the surveys which were sent out to some 32,304 hunters with e-mail addresses. Close to 9,000 deer hunters responded The survey sought information such as: town in which hunter live and hunted, the hunter’s age, how many hours spent hunting, how many deer seen in each zone, and other information. (Interestingly, about 10% of hunting license buyers do not hunt.) Deer sighting rates from these surveys were then compared to the deer density estimates which were based on deer harvest numbers
Broken down by season, about 53 hours were spent per hunter in archery, 38 in shotgun, and 30 in primitive arms. So an average hunter that hunted all three seasons would spend over 100 hours hunting (if the survey responses were representative).

In zones 1-3, deer sighting rates were higher than in zones 4N and 5, which were the lowest in the state. But one also has to consider differences in hunter density across the state. In the east, there are a lot more hunters per unit of huntable land and high deer densities because of access issues, so obviously deer sightings per hour hunted are higher than in western and central MA.

The model evaluates the range of effort. In areas like zone 7, there are more hunters per square mile so they expect more effort, vs zone 4N or 2 where there are fewer hunters per square mile. This range of effort affects harvest/success rates and therefore total harvest. Don’t be swayed by deer harvest numbers. For example, a reduction in the numbers of antlerless permits should cause a decrease in the overall deer harvest. That just makes sense.

The key indicator to watch is the trend in the number of adult bucks harvested (as long as hunter effort remains constant). They are not affected by the antlerless permits. In Zones 1 and 3, the goal is to have 15-18 deer per square mile and they are slightly on the lower end of that goal. MassWildlife is being conservative with the antlerless permits and they are trying to get the Western District numbers up gradually. The last thing they want to do is to raise the permits this year, lower them next year, etc., which is not good for the herd.
To make a long story short they are quite pleased with the make-up of the deer herd in Massachusetts. They have a good mix in terms of age categories. They have a good sampling and harvest system that supports their claim.
What can we hunters do to raise our deer density at a local scale? Improve the local habitat to be able to support more wildlife, including deer. Having only older aged forests are not necessarily good. A mixture of age classes with new, young forests do wonders for deer, in terms of year round food and cover. Selective cuttings are needed to get some light onto the ground.

We can also participate in the annual survey, the more information from hunters, the better they can manage the herd.
Their presentation was excellent. I went into the meeting with preconceived notions about our local deer herd, but when I saw the thoroughness of the information, studies, models and the “rocket science” being applied, I shut up and listened.
They also discussed deer predation which I hope to cover in next week’s column. *****
Thursday evening, local fishing guide Rex Channel from Allure Outfitters will be the guest speaker at the Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited meeting at the Bass Water Grill in Cheshire. His presentation will be about fishing in Alaska on a budget. On his website, (, Channel states that he has over 30 years of flyfishing experience. His presentation follows the social hour which runs from 5PM – 6PM. The event is free and open to the public. For those wishing to purchase a dinner, it begins at 7PM. For more information, contact Ron Wojcik at (413)684-4141 or *****
The public is encouraged to attend a site walk at the Maple Hill Wildlife Management Area in West Stockbridge this Tuesday at 10:00 AM. MassWildlife biologists will discuss and answer questions about planned management activities designed to enhance wildlife habitat as well as the recreational opportunities that arise from this work. Meet on Maple Hill Road (off of Rte 102) at the top of the hill. Look for signs. *****

Also this Tuesday, at 1:00 PM, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board will be meeting at the Western District Office on 88 Old Windsor Road, Dalton. Following that, a Public Hearing will be held at the same location at 3:00PM to establish and amend rules and regulations relative to the Artificial Propagation of Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians; the Exemption List; and the List of Domestic Animals. Call (508) 389-6300 for more information. *****
Twenty six anglers participated in the 26th annual crappie derby which was held by the Onota Fishing Club recently. The results are as follows: Carlos Shacar and Chris Porter took 1st place, Billy and Shane Rodgers took 2nd and Team Casavant took 3rd. The largest crappie was caught by Chris Porter weighing 2.25 lbs. (Qualifies for a State bronze pin). *****

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