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Managing Deer While Gaining Hunter Access

By Cindy Kuenstner, Hunting and Shooting Sports Outreach Program Leader

There is an allure to hunting deer on land that currently has zero hunting pressure. The prospect of harvesting an unwary buck is exciting. Productive deer habitat with limited—or no—hunter access may include a suburban neighborhood, corporate development, municipal open space or county park acreage. When such properties remain closed to hunting, an overpopulation of deer can be expected. The Division of Fish and Wildlife works year-round to expand hunter access by guiding landowners and land managers (public and private) along with hunters and residents through several steps to reach the goal of reducing deer populations by opening land to hunting.

As wildlife managers, our agency understands the science—and has the data, experience and legal authority—to manage white-tailed deer in New Jersey for all to enjoy. Where an overabundance of deer develops and adversely affects the welfare of people in addition to degrading the local habitat, a deer management strategy should be implemented.

Municipal open space parcels (including those in agricultural crops) and large county park properties are among the numerous lands where Fish and Wildlife has been instrumental in the development of deer management programs using the most effective and efficient means of deer population reduction: regulated hunting. As a fundamental part of that process, our agency will create a constructive interface between residents, property owners or managers, county or local government officials and hunters. Fish and Wildlife assists county, township, borough administrators and their councils by using the following approaches:

  • Educate officials and residents on deer biology and ecology (including reproductive potential, feeding habits and preferences) to help put into perspective key wildlife management issues
  • Provide deer harvest data
  • Assess deer-vehicle collision data
  • Reveal inappropriate deer feeding activities
  • Advise on existing hunting- or shooting-related ordinances
  • Assess deer damage to forest, crops and landscaping
  • Highlight hunting laws and regulations
  • Develop a deer management plan
  • Facilitate cooperative hunter- landowner relations
  • Provide a hunter orientation program focusing on hunter responsibility

Many township and county officials may not consider deer hunting on their lands as a form of recreation. Their primary concerns are for the health and welfare of their residents. Hence, reducing property damage, deer-vehicle collisions and the incidence of tick-borne diseases are the main goals of a deer population reduction strategy on municipal and county lands. Improving forest health is viewed as another important objective when developing a deer management plan through regulated hunting.

Do you know of township or county lands where hunting could provide relief from high deer densities? Are you a property owner or manager seeking relief from deer damage? You can become an important part of the wildlife management process to open more land to regulated hunting.

Here’s how:

  1. Identify the unhunted property (location, acreage) and ownership (township, county).
  2. Photograph deer sign showing overbrowsing of ornamental plantings, gardens and tree lines along with a lack of forest understory (plant diversity or regeneration) on and near the identified property.
  3. Ask numerous property neighbors and note their experience with deer damage, deer-auto collisions and tick-borne illnesses.
  4. Review Fish and Wildlife’s website on white-tailed deer management, particularly the publication An Evaluation of Deer Management Options for an excellent overview demonstrating that regulated hunting is the most efficient and effective solution to reduce deer overpopulation.
  5. Prepare notes with several key points about the local deer overpopulation issue. Print images of obvious deer damage to vegetation.
  6. Bring together residents who are experiencing deer overpopulation problems and want relief. Have them join you at a township council (or county board of freeholders) meeting where you will present facts about this local matter that needs attention.
  7. Respectfully request that action be taken by the council to open select municipal lands to regulated hunting, where appropriate. Remind them that regulated hunting takes place safely in the large majority of communities throughout New Jersey. If an existing township ordinance prohibits hunting, propose that this be updated to remove such prohibition, just as numerous municipalities around the state have done in recent years. Signatures with the address of additional residents supporting these approaches are also valuable to present to the council.
  8. Request that the municipality form a committee to develop a deer management plan with the support of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife—at no charge. Consider serving on that committee. Our agency will, also.
  9. After the public meeting, send a follow-up email or letter to the mayor and council restating your key points, the action you have asked the municipality to take and thank them for their sincere consideration. Copy Fish and Wildlife on this communication to keep us informed of municipalities that we might assist in developing an effective deer management program.

Remember that many non-hunters and township officials have no knowledge about our sport, mandatory hunter education courses, the outstanding hunter safety record, hunting laws and regulations or the responsibilities that all hunters must uphold in order to maintain their hunting privileges. Meeting with local government officials is an opportunity to share several positive aspects about regulated hunting and to make a favorable impression. Your actions as an informed and vocal resident will open the door for Fish and Wildlife to work directly with your municipality, supporting them in developing straightforward, efficient and fiscally responsible deer management strategies that benefit all of their residents.

Wildlife biologists from Fish and Wildlife’s Deer Research Project, our Hunting and Shooting Outreach Program, regional conservation officers and our Hunter Education Program take a team approach when working with municipal and county officials on deer- and hunting-related issues. This includes addressing any township ordinance that could affect hunting both on township open space lands and private properties throughout the municipality.

Be sure to notify our agency immediately if a municipality is considering any new ordinance that could affect hunting or the shooting sports. Note that a municipality cannot regulate hunting; this authority is pre-empted by the state. Prompt timing is essential for Fish and Wildlife to ensure that only valid and reasonable ordinances are enacted that might affect responsible wildlife management—and your hunting privileges.

Although the development of a new deer management plan for municipal or county properties will take time, likely several months, the long-term benefits of increasing hunter access are valuable and far reaching. A significant reduction in crop and property damage, decreased deer-vehicle collisions, fewer incidents of tick-borne diseases and a more diverse and naturally regenerating forest habitat can be realized with ongoing deer management strategies in place—all while nurturing a healthier habitat for the wildlife that everyone appreciates.

New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife encourages residents—hunters and non-hunters alike—to partner with us, making this a successful process to manage deer by gaining hunter access.

For support in approaching your municipal or county officials to open land for regulated deer hunting as a management tool, contact:

Carole Stanko
Deer Research Project Leader
26 Rt. 173 W, Hampton, NJ 08827
(908) 735-7040

Cindy Kuenstner
Hunting & Shooting Sports Outreach Program Leader
MC501-03, PO Box 420, Trenton, NJ 08625-0420
(609) 633-7598

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