Five open space properties totaling almost 200 acres will be sites for the town’s “controlled deer hunt” in the upcoming 2019-20 season.

“These are sites they’ve hunted a lot in the past,” Conservation Commission member Jack Kace told the selectmen.

“The smallest parcel is 19 acres, the largest is 94 acres,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

The Board of Selectmen approved the five sites after some discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 18, acting on a recommendation from the Conservation Commission, which is responsible for overseeing most town open space land.

The five hunting sites and the sort of weapons approved for hunting on them are:

• Keeler Court, 26 acres, for archery hunting only;

• Stonecrest/Ridgefield Brook property, 34 acres, for hunting by archery and shotgun;

• The Ledges property, 26 acres, for hunting with archery and firearms;

• Colonial Heights, 19 acres, for archery hunting;

• Ridgebury Farms, 94 acres, for archery hunting — and possibly also hunting with shotguns and muzzleloaders, provided the Ridgefield Police Department approves gun hunting there.

The town’s “controlled hunt” — approved by a packed town meeting back in 2006 — involves hunting overseen by the deer committee in selected town open spaces that are closed to the general public during the hunting periods. Hunting on private property or on some state lands is governed by state hunting regulations, without specific rules from the town.

The hunt is generally responsible for about a third of the deer taken in Ridgefield in any given year, according to the deer committee. The total deer killed by hunters in Ridgefield peaked at 336 in 2009, and had fallen back down to 153 last year, 2018, according to state figures presented to the selectmen by the town deer committee back in May.

Agreement

The selectmen’s approval of the five site follows upon an agreement worked out between the Conservation Commission and the town’s Deer Management Implementation Committee — or deer committee, as it’s widely called. The deer committee has long organized the town’s controlled hunt. The Conservation Commission, with oversight of town open space lands, has been supportive — but some members have expressed discomfort with aspects of the hunt.

The selectmen had previously asked the Conservation Commission and deer committee to work out their differences, and Kace told the selectmen about the settlement reached concerning the annual decision process for hunting on various properties.

“What we agreed to with the deer committee is to have a list of 15, and out of the 15 they’d choose five for any particular year,” Kace said. “They’d be rotating, with every site hunted only every third year.”

With fewer sites hunted, more open space will be open to other uses.

“That gives relief to hikers,” Kace said.

There was some confusion, as the selectmen noted that two properties not under the Conservation Commission’s jurisdiction — the 166-acre Ridgefield Golf Course, and the 40-acre Shadow Lake property — were on the 15-property list of sites the year’s hunt would be chosen from.

Selectwoman Barbara Manners, who has long been troubled by the deer hunting, worried the list of five sites approved by the Conservation Commission could then be expanded by the two others.

“The agreement with the deer committee said they’d hunt five out of the 15 approved by the Conservation Commission — not seven,” Manners said.

“I was going in, this year, thinking we were only going to be hunting five parcels,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark, who has generally been supportive of the hunt.

The agreement, outlined in a letter to the selectmen that was signed by Conservation Commission Chairman James Coyle and deer committee Chairman Stefano Zandi, also says the deer committee will determine the number of hunters taking part in the overall town hunt, and individual properties.

“At no time will any property be hunted with more than two hunters per parcel,” the agreement says.

State regulation

Deer hunting season, regulated by the state, varies depending on the type of weapon used and also the category of the land — private, state-owned, etc. The state sets seasons and has rules such as those on the use of shotguns, which are banned within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling, and limiting hunting with a rifle to sites of 10 acres or more.

Overall, hunting season began mid-September and will run through the end of December or January, depending on some specifics such as type of weapon.

However, the agreement between the Conservation Commission and deer committee says: “While the state of Connecticut sets the dates for the hunting season, the hunt in Ridgefield would not begin until roughly mid-October and run to the end of January.”

At the Sept. 18 selectmen’s meeting, Zandri — the deer committee chairman — confirmed the five-parcel plan was in keeping with the understanding he’d reached with the Conservation Commission.

But the hunt used to take place on a dozen or more parcels most years, and Zandri warned that cutting down the number of hunting sites would have consequences.

“Just to be clear,” Zandri said, “you reduce the hunt, you reduce the number of properties, you’re going to reduce the number of deer taken.”