Deer Committee discusses bow hunting on town owned land

by Karina Coombs

On July 19, four members of the newly formed Deer Advisory Committee held their second meeting and began discussion of bow hunting regulations in various Massachusetts communities and the merits of incorporating them in Carlisle in an effort to curtail the town’s current white-tailed deer population, estimated in January 2015 at between 30 to 60 per square mile by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). 

At the January presentation, sponsored by the Board of Health’s (BOH) Lyme Disease Subcommittee, deer biologist David Stainbrook of MassWildlife noted that a healthy deer population is between 18 to 20 per square mile, adding that Carlisle’s population is very high and has impacted its forests. The panel discussion also touched on a Connecticut study that showed a drop in reported cases of Lyme disease with a decrease in deer population to between 10 to 15 per square mile. (See “ Would deer hunting cut Lyme rate?” January 21, 2015.) 

Deer management history

The 2015 Town Election approved a non-binding referendum for deer hunting on town-owned land as a method of deer management. The Conservation Commission (ConsCom) was interested in deer management from the perspective of damage to vegetation in the understory while the BOH was looking at the issue in relation to Lyme disease. After finalizing its charge, the Board of Selectmen approved the committee in November 2016. A June 5 meeting of the Lyme Disease Subcommittee, however, indicates the group is no longer focused on deer culling as an approach to decreasing disease. (See “Lyme Disease Subcommittee considers website, tick testing” June 7.)

Comprised of representatives from the Selectmen, BOH, ConsCom and the Trails Committee, the seven-member Deer Committee also includes a member of the Carlisle Police Department, a citizen at large and a bow hunter. Current appointments are Kerry Kissinger, Todd Thorsen, Chair Lee Tatistcheff, Steve Tobin, Sergeant Scott Barnes, John Keating and Dejan Bojanic. Members serve a one-year term and will report their findings and recommendations back to the Selectmen. 

Possible requirements

Having collected information regarding bow hunting regulations in the towns of Dover, Framingham, Groton, Medfield, Pepperell, Sudbury, Westborough, Westford and Weston and at the Sudbury Valley Trustees and the Trustees of the Reservations (TTOR) properties, Bojanic asked the group to consider what might be a good fit within Carlisle. “What would make sense for us as a town to adopt?”

The four agreed that background checks and hunter identification (including tree stands and cars) should be part of any Carlisle hunting requirements as well as a proficiency test of 25 yards and the completion of a bow hunter safety course. While a basic hunter education class is required by the state for first time hunters, a bow hunter safety course is not. Both courses are offered for free by MassWildlife. Hunting from tree stands as opposed to ground blinds was also favored for safety reasons, but variances for hunters physically unable to climb a tree could be issued as well as variances for hunters who require the use of a crossbow. 

The committee also favored requiring an interview for perspective hunters, with Bojanic adding that it could weed out those who were not serious or would avoid an interview. Giving hunting preference to Carlisle residents and town employees was also discussed, but members saw no reason to limit bow hunting to residents only. The group did not think it was necessary to alert the Carlisle Police Department prior to a hunt.

How many hunters and at what distance?

Dover has a maximum number of hunters or maximum density set to 58 for its parcels. Sudbury is set at 25 and Framingham at 14. Westford has defined density as one hunter per ten acres. Members of the committee also discussed a density of one hunter per acre in Carlisle and imagined that licenses would be associated with specific parcels, with the acreage determining the number of licenses available. Not only would this ensure safety, but it would also guarantee that hunting would be spread out throughout the town 

State hunting regulations prohibit bow hunting within 500 feet of a home (unless permission is otherwise given by the homeowner in writing) or within 150 feet of a roadway. Tobin suggested identifying all town-owned parcels and then mapping the properties within the 500-foot discharge setback to determine those that would be excluded. Property owners could be approached by the committee to give permission for selected hunters to operate within the setback.

Tobin asked if trails should have the same 150-foot setback as roadways. As with roads, hunters would also have to face away from them when hunting. As a member of the Trails Committee, Tobin explained the potential challenge in mapping parcels that could contain a number of trails and intersections and could provide setback challenges depending on the distance they chose. Westford currently prohibits hunting within 50 feet of a trail, while Sudbury Valley Trustees and TTOR are set at 75 feet. 

Trophies and antlerless deer

Keating also wants the committee to consider how to encourage hunters to take an antlerless deer before one with antlers. Antlerless deer are any deer, male or female, without antlers or where the antlers are less than three inches in length. According to MassWildlife, of the 12,196 deer harvested in Massachusetts in 2016 (excluding Quabbin, which is a controlled hunt), 5,190 were antlerless (which includes button bucks, or males six months or younger). 

With deer management the purpose of potential bow hunting on town-owned lands, Keating hopes to find a way to regulate what is hunted and does not want people just looking for trophies. Bojanic explained that while they could encourage people to get antlerless permits, he was unsure if they could only permit antlerless hunting. 

The state limit for white-tailed deer is two, antlered. Antlerless deer may only be hunted by permit as part of the state’s deer management program, with MassWildlife assigning the number of permits issued for each of its 15 Wildlife Management Zones depending on an area’s deer population. Carlisle is part of zone 10, and in 2016, MassWildlife issued 12,000 antlerless permits for this area for 3,841 applicants.

Hunting for white-tailed deer in Massachusetts begins on September 30 with the youth deer hunt, one day of hunting for 12 to 17 year olds. A paraplegic hunt runs from November 2 to 4, with archery season running from October 16 to 25. Shotgun season runs November 27 through December 9 and a primitive firearms season runs December 11 to 30. Bow hunters may hunt throughout shotgun and primitive firearms season provided they follow the specific regulations for each. Hunting is prohibited on Sundays.

The Deer Committee agreed they would continue looking at potential regulations and begin identifying town owned parcels and the required setbacks on each. They will also use trails maps to gauge distances with various setbacks and explore how they could access the town’s GIS maps for overlays in the process of identifying hunting parcels. The next meeting is scheduled for August 30 at 7 p.m. ∆