12.16.2010

The Local Food Report: deer season

The other day, I saw this sign:


I was at the Wellfleet Mobil, getting gas, wishing my mittens weren't so drafty, when it caught my eye. I was curious, so I asked the man at the cash register who did the checking, and to my surprise, he pointed me to my mechanic, Brian Flannigan. I knew Brian could help with a flat tire or an empty radiator—I did not know that he was in the business of reporting to the state on hunters and their deer.

Apparently, it's a pretty easy thing. Brian says he started doing it because there wasn't a checking station on the Outer Cape—the closest one is at Goose Hummock in Orleans, a bit of a hike for hunters from Provincetown and Wellfleet. He contacted the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, they set him up with a ring of metal tags, and all he really has to report is how many deer come in, whether or not the hunters have proper licenses, and what the sex of the deer is.

The nice thing about this set up is that he gets a pretty good idea of how the season's going locally for White-Tailed Deer. This year has been a good year, he says—plenty of big bucks and a few antlerless deer.

The way the permits work, every state-licensed hunter can shoot up to two deer with antlers. Anterless deer permits are issued by region—meaning that any individual hunter can get as many anterless permits as they want until the region reaches its quota. While an anterless deer can mean either a doe (a female deer) or a button buck (a male deer about six months old that hasn't developed antlers yet), this helps keep populations steady by limiting the number of female deer shot in any given season.

At any rate, he had tagged 18 deer as of this morning. With the snow today, he says he's hoping for another. The shotgun and archery seasons are over—archery went from mid-October through the end of November, and shotgun season just ended last week—which means that the hunters out now are using primitive firearms, the kind of old-fashioned guns that involve loading bullets and blackpowder down the barrel.

A long time ago, Brian says he might have tagged thirty or forty deer total each season, but recently, he says he's lucky if he gets over twenty. He says it's not that the deer aren't out there—they are, particularly this year thanks to a good fall for acorns—but that there simply aren't as many hunters getting out. Partially, he blames this on a loss of tradition—fathers and mothers not passing their love of sportsmanship on to their daughters and sons—but he also thinks it has to do with the kind of lifestyles we lead today and the fact that we spend most of our daylight hours at work. When he gets done at the shop, he points out, it's dark. There's no time to get out with a gun and track a buck through the woods.

If you're interested in the shift, check out this MassWildlife chart of deer harvest history. It tracks statewide harvest levels from the present all the way back to 1966. And in case eating and cooking with venison is more your thing, I wanted to remind you about this recipe for mincemeat pie I posted last January. It's hearty, and very festive, and if you happen to have a freezer full of local venison, it would make an excellent treat for the holidays.

2 comments :

Beth said...

Loss of habitat has also made a huge impact on hunting. Many hunters just go to another state to hunt, because there is so much public and private property that can't be hunted. And in our area on the Cape (12), a hunter has only a 50% chance of winning an antlerless permit through the lottery. Other areas, like the Islands and the Plymouth area have many more antlerless permits than hunters, making filling the freezer a bit easier.

Elspeth said...

Beth,

Thanks for your insight. Habitat loss is definitely a huge issue—we're lucky in Wellfleet that so much land is protected.

All the best,
Elspeth

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