The hunt is on.

Deer hunting has been approved by the selectmen for five town-owned properties during the 2020-21 hunting season.

“Ridgefield still has a pretty healthy population of deer,” Stefano Zandri told the selectmen.

Zandri is chairman of the town’s Deer Management Implementation Committee which has managed Ridgefield’s “controlled deer hunt” on town open space lands each year since it was approved by a raucous town meeting in 2006.

The town properties to be hunted this year are:

Shadow Lake, 40 acres, for archery, shotgun and muzzleloader hunting;

Laurel Lane, 50 acres, for archery, shotgun and muzzleloader seasons;

Linden Lane, 26 acres, archery hunting only;

Silvermine Ridge, 14 acres, for archery hunting;

Bobby’s Court, 34 acres, for archery hunting.

The selectmen voted 4-to-1 on Sept. 16 to approve controlled hunting on the five town properties. Selectwoman Barbara Manners, who has long opposed the deer hunt on humanitarian grounds, was the dissenting vote.

Hunting is legal in Connecticut on private land with the owner’s permission, and on much state land, including two of three large state tracts in Ridgefield: the Great Swamp, and Bennett’s Pond State Park. Hunting is not allowed in Seth Low Pierrepont State Park.

The controlled hunt on town land is now governed by a compromise agreement worked out in 2019 between the Conservation Commission, which controls town open space land, the Deer Committee, and the selectmen. Under the agreement 15 open space properties would be open to hunting, but only five would be hunted each year. A three-year rotation was set up so none of the 15 properties will be open to hunting more often than one season every three years. The five properties to be hunted in a given year still go through an approval process with the Conservation Commission and Board of Selectmen.

Deer kills

In presenting this year’s hunting proposal to the selectmen, Deer Committee Chairman Stefano Zandri said that last year in the first year of the five-parcel rotation the controlled town hunt had taken 47 deer — 36 does and 11 bucks.

“Is 47 the normal amount?” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark asked

“We probably average 60 deer a year,” Zandri said.

The controlled hunt accounted for 53 deer taken in the 2018 season, and 51 deer in 2017. Totals in the early years of the hunt were higher —131 deer taken in 2009 and 113 in 2008.

“We were all surprised we shot as many deer as we did on five properties,” Zandri said. “...We had one hunter who took 21 deer.”

Of course, the 47 deer taken that Zandri spoke of counts just kills in the controlled hunt on town properties.

The state’s figure for deer killed in Ridgefield during 2019 on all lands — private, state and town — totaled 118. That figure includes 94 deer taken by archery hunting, 18 by hunting with guns, and six roadkills from car accidents.

Goals?

“What are we trying to achieve through the deer hunt, besides having the ability to hunt? asked Selectman Sean Connelly.

The program was designed to reduce the town’s deer population, which was seen as hosting ticks that spread Lyme disease, causing car accidents, and also as being destructive to forest understory.

Zandri told the selectmen the deer population was still substantial, though not what it was 10 years ago.

“I think that has to do with predators,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more bear a lot more coyotes.”

But years of hunting has played a role, and the deer population has been decreasing.

“Every year we consistently shoot anywhere from 47 to 60 deer,” Zandri said.

“We were at 60, 70 deer per square mile,” he said. “...Now the state says we’re at 40 to 43 deer per square mile.”

“Is there an ideal number?” Connelly asked.

“I think the number we’re trying to get to is 20,” Zandri said. “…Will we get there? Probably not. It’ll be very difficult to get down to 20 deer per square mile.”

“When it started, I remember it being about 60 per sq mile,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

“Seventy-six,” said Zandri.

“In years past Ridgefiled has always been number one in the state when it come to deer kills. We’ve now dropped to number five,” he added.

Marconi recalled that the town hunt used to be bigger. “There were 9, 10, 11 properties that were being hunted.”

“At one point we had 15 properties that were being hunted,” Zandri said.

Car accidents

Marconi and Manners noted that the number of deer car accidents had been declining over the years of the hunt.

In the early years of the hunt, the numbers showed an almost equal number of deer killed by hunting and car accidents:

1996: roadkill 124, other 25, hunting 123;

1997: roadkill 107, other 26, hunting 116;

1998: roadkill 122; other 50, hunting 92.

But more recently, numbers from hunting are the same or increased, while the numbers of deer killed in road accidents or due to other reasons are down dramatically from the early years.

2016: roadkill 9, other 2, hunting 196;

2017: roadkill 14, other 0, hunting 183;

2018: roadkill 3, other 0, hunting 152.

The number of deer taken by hunting peaked in the third and fourth years of the town hunt. Figures for those years are:

2008: roadkill 30, other 5, hunting 330;

2009: roadkill 61, other 19, hunting 336.

Zandri told the selectmen he didn’t have numbers onf the deer killed in car accidents in the most recent complete year, 2019.