Proposed Deer Management Plan

DNRT is considering a Deer Management Program modeled after the ones operated by other land conservation groups in our area.

Why we’re considering this:

  1.  The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife) estimates that the white-tailed deer population in Dartmouth well exceeds recommended sustainable levels. An ideal deer population is between 9 and 18 deer per square mile. Mass Wildlife estimates that there are 30-50 deer per square mile in eastern Massachusetts, and a recent survey by Mass Audubon at Allen’s Pond Sanctuary counted 56 deer per square mile.
  2. This over-population has led to excessive deer browse on native plant communities, and costly losses on browsed residential and agricultural plants.
  3. The frequency of deer collisions with cars is very high. In 2023, Dartmouth Police recorded 1,803 vehicle interactions with deer.
  4. Hunting is the only feasible means for deer population control in Dartmouth. The practice of capture and sterilization is not permitted in Massachusetts, and there are no longer natural predators of deer, such as wolves and mountain lions. While coyotes will prey on white-tailed deer fawns and an occasional adult, they are not a significant source of deer predation.
  5. Current deer harvest levels are inadequate to control the growth of the population given the species’ breeding biology. Mass Wildlife reports that 2023 harvests were approximately 3 deer per square mile across all of southeastern Massachusetts.

To develop this program, DNRT consulted experts from Mass Wildlife, Mass Audubon, the Trustees of Reservations, and other land trusts. We also conferred with our Land Management Committee, local deer hunters, farmers, and former and current members of the DNRT Board of Directors.

The basic elements of the program are as follows:

  1. The program will be limited to archery only.
  2. Prior to the start of the state-designated hunting season, DNRT will work with a volunteer hunter coordinator to select a small number of bow hunters to harvest deer from select DNRT properties that do not have trails open to the public.
  3. No species other than white-tailed deer may be taken.
  4. The permitted hunters must follow all state laws and report their harvest to DNRT weekly.
  5. Hunters will need to pass an archery proficiency test, submit to a CORI and SORI check, and provide proof of liability insurance.
  6. Only those hunters who agree to the conditions of the program and sign a waiver of liability will be allowed to participate in this program.

DNRT will continue to inspect all of its properties to remove unauthorized hunting stands as we have done in the past.

We understand that this program will not, by itself, solve the deer overpopulation problem in our area. However, through this program DNRT can be part of the responsible management of the natural resources in Dartmouth affected by this problem, and contribute to the long-term solution.

View the full draft plan here.

FAQs

Isn’t part of DNRT’s mission to protect wildlife?
DNRT’s mission is, “To preserve and protect Dartmouth’s natural resources for people and nature, forever.” Our work has protected over 5,500 acres of every kind of habitat available in Dartmouth. These habitats are used by hundreds of species, ranging from bumblebees and monarch butterflies to prairie warblers and coyotes. We understand that at this time the white-tail deer population is out of balance, causing impacts to many of these habitats and to other animal species. We feel that it is DNRT’s responsibility to promote the ethical, responsible management of white-tailed deer in order to help restore the overall ecosystem balance in Dartmouth.

Why are we killing deer? Isn’t there a better way for DNRT to help control their population?
With no natural predators (yes, coyotes can take some young and older deer) and warmer winters, there is very little controlling the population of deer in southeastern New England. In other states, resource managers have used capture and sterilization to control deer reproduction. That method is not allowed by Massachusetts law. Ethical, responsible hunting in line with guidance from biologists can help control the population while providing food for people who need it.

If the goal is to take deer off of the land, why not allow the use of shotguns, which are more effective?
DNRT’s goal is to respond to the problem of deer overpopulation in a way that maximizes safety. While shotgun hunting is more efficient at harvesting deer, initiating this program with archery only allows us to most safely measure its benefits and consider modifications, like permitting shotgun hunting in certain locations, at a later date.

If the goal of the program is to take deer off of the land, why not allow hunting at Reserves with trails like Mass Audubon does?
By separating deer harvest from properties where the public is invited to walk trails, DNRT hopes to minimize the chance that a visitor to a property would encounter a hunter. In future years, DNRT may consider revising this policy for larger properties with trails to allow deer harvesting in secluded parts of those properties.

Can’t people hunt on DNRT land anyway like any other public land?
DNRT’s land is privately owned by DNRT and is not considered “public,” even though most of our properties are open to public visitation. Thus, the rules and regulations regarding use of our properties are developed by DNRT, and we are not subject to the same rules that govern publicly owned land such as a state forest. Prior to 2024, DNRT’s lands have not been open to hunting.  However, some DNRT Reserves (specifically Frank Knowles/Little River, Star of the Sea, and Destruction Brook Woods) contain parcels that are owned by the Town of Dartmouth. Those Town-owned portions of those three Reserves are subject to the management decisions of the Town and have historically included hunting.

How will you know if this program is successful?
DNRT will track the number and sex of deer taken each hunting season to develop statistics on the impact of the program. Participants in the DNRT program will also be asked to report the number of deer that are seen but not harvested. DNRT staff will also communicate with other landowners in Dartmouth and surrounding towns and also with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to stay up-to-date on population trends in our area.

Will this program ever be ended?
DNRT’s deer management program may be reduced or ended at any time for any reason that DNRT feels warrants such a decision.

How will you stop unauthorized hunters from using DNRT lands?
DNRT regularly inspects all of its properties in the autumn of each year. Unauthorized hunting equipment found during those inspections is marked with a requirement that the stand be removed by owner. Stands that are not removed by the owner are ultimately removed by DNRT. Notification of unauthorized hunting is also shared with the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Will other animals besides deer be hunted on DNRT land?
No. At this time only the harvesting of white-tailed deer will be allowed on DNRT’s properties. Deer may only be harvested by approved hunters and in accordance with the terms of DNRT’s Deer Management Program.

Do I have to wear blaze orange on DNRT property?
We advise visitors to Destruction Brook Woods, Frank Knowles/Little River, and Star of the Sea Reserves to wear blaze orange during hunting seasons because those Reserves contain parcels that are owned by the Town of Dartmouth as well as by DNRT. Hunting is allowed on Town-owned lands but will not be allowed on the DNRT portions of these properties. However, we encourage visitors to wear blaze orange throughout the entire property. Visitors to other DNRT Reserves with trails need not wear blaze orange because hunting is not permitted on those Reserves. Visitors to DNRT properties without mapped trail systems should consult DNRT’s website or call the office to confirm whether deer hunting is being permitted at a particular Reserve.

What is the hunting season for deer?
The hunting season for white-tailed deer in Massachusetts is set by the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board. The season generally takes place October 1 through December 31 but may vary from year to year. Mass Wildlife may also authorize special hunting days outside of that date range, for example to provide a Youth Hunt Day.

The full Massachusetts deer hunting season is divided into three non-overlapping parts: Archery Season, Shotgun Season, and Primitive Firearms Season. Archery Season takes place from early October to the end of November. This is when hunting would be allowed on select DNRT reserves included in our deer management program. Hunting is not allowed on Sundays in Massachusetts. For the most current hunting season and other regulations, visit the Divisions of Fisheries and Wildlife website.

When and where does DNRT allow hunting?
During the Massachusetts deer archery hunting season, DNRT allows permitted members of its deer management program to harvest deer from selected DNRT properties that do not have mapped trail systems. Per State regulations, hunting hours begin ½ hour before sunrise and end ½ hour after sunset. There is no hunting on Sundays. For a complete list of DNRT properties that permit deer hunting, please contact DNRT directly.

Will I be able to hunt on DNRT’s land at Frank Knowles/Little River, Star of the Sea, and Destruction Brook Woods?
No. These Reserves contain areas that are owned and managed by the Town of Dartmouth. As such, at this time, only the Town-owned portions of these reserves are open to hunting. Hunters wishing to use Town-owned portions of these Reserves should check with local officials and be sure they are not hunting on DNRT-owned property, where it is strictly prohibited.

What other conservation groups in MA/on the South Coast allow hunting?
Both the Trustees of Reservations and Mass Audubon operate deer hunting programs at certain properties they own. Other land trusts in our area such as the Westport Land Conservation Trust, Mattapoisett Land Trust, Sippican Lands Trust, and the Buzzards Bay Coalition allow hunting on certain properties as well. Each group manages hunting in a slightly different way. To be certain about rules and policies about hunting, be sure to contact the organization that owns the property you’re interested in visiting.

What will happen to the deer that are harvested through DNRT’s hunting program?
Participants who harvest deer will tag the animal, field dress it, and check it in with Mass Wildlife as required by law. The deer may then be taken for personal consumption or donated as food through the Mass Wildlife Hunters Share the Harvest program, which provides the opportunity for hunters to donate and share their venison with those in need.

How do you apply to be a hunter in DNRT’s hunting program?
Hunters interested in participating should contact the DNRT Land Manager at (508) 991-2289 or linda@dnrt.org to inquire about availability in the program.

How will DNRT select the hunters that participate in their hunting program?
Participants in DNRT’s deer management program will be required to pass a skills test demonstrating their archery proficiency. They must also sign a waiver of liability, provide proof of insurance, and submit to a Criminal Offender and Sex Offender Record Information (CORI/SORI) background check. A statement of commitment to following the rules of the DNRT deer management program will also be required.

How will I know if a DNRT property is open to hunting?
Only select DNRT properties with no mapped trail system will be included in the deer management program.

What measures is DNRT taking to ensure safety on properties with hunting?
Safety is a primary concern for DNRT. Participants in the program will be required to abide by policies designed to ensure their safety and that of others while hunting on DNRT property. Hunters must comply with State Hunting Setbacks, which are specific areas where hunting is prohibited. Setback areas include locations upon or within 150 feet of a State or hard-surfaced highway, or within 500 feet of a dwelling in use.

In addition, to minimize the chance for injury to an abutter or visitor to a DNRT property, we will only be permitting archery at this time. No firearms are allowed on any DNRT property. In order to avoid contact between hunting program participants and visitors, DNRT would be restricting this program solely to our properties that do not have mapped trails. Participants will be required to make themselves known and visible to any visitors they may encounter so that they are aware of their presence.

Will you ever allow shotguns?
DNRT may consider expanding our deer management program to allow for the use of shotguns to harvest deer in the future. Such a decision would require approval by DNRT’s Board of Directors.

Will you ever allow hunting at other properties?
In the future, DNRT may consider expanding the deer management program to other properties if it can be done safely and would increase the number of deer taken off the landscape in line with recommendations by state wildlife officials.

Where can I learn more about hunting in Massachusetts?
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife) regulates hunting in the Commonwealth. Information about a variety of related topics can at their website.