Growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, I never really thought about hunting or thought it was something remote from me. It wasn’t until many years later when I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut to manage a 250 acre nature preserve that hunting became a very close reality.
Audubon Greenwich had begun a white-tailed deer hunting project the year before I got there, and it was my responsibility to manage it. There was a serious overpopulation of deer in Greenwich, and when there is an overpopulation of deer, they destroy the forest habitat by eating wildflowers and the forest understory shrubs. Ten deer per square mile can sustain the flora and birdlife, but Fairfield County it is more like… The deer strip the low-lying brush, and thereby deer threaten the local survival of those bird species, which need low shrubs for nesting. The multi-year ongoing project at Audubon Greenwich has been successful in reducing the herd, and inexpensive using a strictly monitored local bowhunting club.
The state’s deer population has been rising for the last 50 years. Incredible as it may seem, in the early 1900s, the statewide deer population was estimated at less than 50 deer because mountain lions, coyote and other animals culled their numbers. Today wildlife experts believe Connecticut’s deer population may be around 100,000.
But in the past ten years, because of efforts by the DEP to expand hunting seasons and work with different towns to open public lands, nature conservancies, water company properties and private properties to hunting, the deer population is stabilizing and, in some areas, beginning to go down.
But not in Fairfield County ! Fairfield County has the highest deer density in the state, averaging 62 deer per square mile with pockets of up to 100. This overabundance leads to more Lyme Disease, collisions with motor vehicles and over-browsing of native plants. Deer numbers in Fairfield County particularly have grown unchecked because most the land is closed to hunting, but more and more residents are allowing hunters on their private land. Also enticed by resident’s gardens lawns. Hunting is in fact and reality the only solution today. See this excellent article from the University of CT.
Many area communities, have been promoting hunting in recent years as a way to control a burgeoning deer population. From Stamford and Wilton, to Redding and Ridgefield. The town of Fairfield is the latest community to form a committee, hold public hearings and draft a management plan for what should be done about its deer. Fairfield officials expect to release a report any day now on how to control the town’s deer population. For more information go to the Fairfield Deer Management web site.
Deer hunting season is in full swing in Connecticut. And the Connecticut deer hunting season is one of the most liberal in the United States with 120 days of possible time in the field. Bow hunters have a very long season. The bow hunting season on private land, depending on the zone runs from September 15 through January 31, The firearms deer hunting season on private land in Connecticut begins on November 19 and lasts for two weeks. Click on this DEP link for all the details.
The statistics for the 2008 Deer Harvest and road kill are fascinating. 3,600 archery, 7,100 shotgun/rifle, 1176 landowner, 690 muzzleloader, 883 crop kill, 2,190 road kill, 100 other for a total of 15,800. to read a fascinating full report of these hunting stats see the US Fish and Wildlife Report on Hunting and Fishing in CT.
There are more deer hunters in Connecticut now than ever in the state’s history. This increase may be partially do to the poor economy and the opportunity deer hunting has for harvesting ones own food and obtaining high protein, lean meat.
In order to make use of such a large harvest, a new program has been established called, Hunt To Feed. This innovative program allows a hunter to donate the venison from his harvest to the Connecticut Food Bank at no cost to the hunter. At a time when Connecticut’s food pantries are hurting for food donations and have empty shelves, this is a wonderful humanitarian program provided by hunters. In Connecticut, Hunters for the Hungry donated 41,000 pounds of venison, to food charities. For more information see the Hunt To Feed web site
I personally believe that right now in Connecticut deer hunting is the most effective and cost efficient way for management of deer in our urban environment. There are no effective, approved ways to limit the population of deer in a non-lethal way. Deer management through contraception is still experimental, cost prohibitive only isolated herds can be managed in this way, not free ranging deer. Labor intensive and almost impossible.
Animal-rights activists argue that killing deer is not the answer, and municipalities should instead allow nature to take its course to control deer. Hunting shows a lack of respect for conscious life, they say, arguing it won’t end Lyme Disease or motor vehicle collisions, but instead actually prompt more breeding and faster-growing deer populations. Here is an outline of their argument from the Connecticut group Friends of Animals.
For a good description of some of the myths in deer control and an excellent refutation of what I consider for the most part to be a flawed animal right arguments see this hunters’ web site link.
Hunting Other Mammals and Birds
Over the past half-century, we have seen the recovery of many species of wildlife in Connecticut and almost everywhere. In fact, hunting and trapping have been expanded for some species, such as deer and beaver, to manage burgeoning wildlife populations. Research, management, and habitat improvement projects, funded by license and permit fees paid by sportsmen and special excise taxes on hunting equipment, are largely responsible for this recovery.
In Connecticut many bird species are hunted, of course: various species of ducks: mergansers, coots, Virginia and sora rails, clapper and king rails, Canada Geese, Snow Geese Brant as well as turkeys, pheasants and other upland birds. Crow, quail, chukar, woodcock, snipe, ruffed grouse, partridge. Each year pheasants are purchased and distributed throughout the state on state owned, state managed and permit-required areas, similar of course to stocking our rivers and streams with fish.
The state department of environmental protection say that the number of duck hunters in Connecticut is at an all-time low to about 5500.. In the late 70′s, that number was more than 16,000. The biggest reason may be that there are simply fewer places to hunt now than ever before due to loss of habitat and development pressures.
Mammals hunted in Connecticut are: the small game animals: gray squirrel, cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, European hares, woodchuck and also the forbearing mammals such as raccoons, opossums , red and gray foxes, coyotes, river otters, beaver, mink, muskrat, weasel, and skunk.
The hunters I know hunt safely and ethically. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection hunting and trapping are carefully regulated. Regulations and permitting are strict and mandatory hunter safety, ethics and trapper training courses. Here is a full description of the state’s hunting rules and regulations.
The hunters I know respect the environment and wildlife. Many are conservationists and bird watchers that protect animals and the environment.. Hunters have shouldered the cost of open space conservation. Hunters willingly accept and support decisions made by wildlife management agencies for the good of all animals. Hunters fervently protect our wild lands to keep them free from development, pollution and misuse.
I object to seal slaughter in Canada and other wildlife abuse around the world. I am vehemently opposed to the abuse of circus animals. I feel the stocking of birds like pheasants just for the hunter’s sport is not necessarily a good philosophy. I believe that perpetuating hunting and killing of many American birds and mammals just because it has always been that way and is an American tradition is wrong and not any kind of intelligent justification.
But I do believe in the importance of deer hunting in Connecticut for the curtailment of Lyme disease, reduction of dangerous car collisions, the protection of wildflowers and vegetation and for the conservation of Connecticut’s environment.
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Check out my listing of Connecticut nature and environmental web sites to the right on this page.