Open season: Bristol moves to create deer hunting cooperative

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 10/19/22

The Bristol Town Council unanimously authorized the Town Administrator to draft a program which would allow bow hunting on some town-owned lands, beginning next year, hoping it will reduce incidents of vehicle collisions, Lyme disease, and property damage.

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Open season: Bristol moves to create deer hunting cooperative


During a recent meeting of the town council, officials established that Bristol has a deer problem. Last week, the council took the first step towards what they hope will be a solution.

During their Oct. 12 meeting, the Bristol Town Council unanimously authorized Town Administrator Steven Contente to draft the creation of a cooperative program — which will be crafted with input from local officials and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) — which would permit a deer hunting season to begin in September of 2023 and run through January of 2024.

“In summary, deer are overabundant, they need to be reduced to fall below cultural carrying capacity — which is how many people are willing to live with — and the best management option to reduce that is through legal, regulated hunting,” said Dylan Ferreira, senior wildlife biologist from DEM’s division of fish and wildlife, in a presentation to the council.

Ferreira had appeared before, in August, to present on the deer situation in Bristol. He reiterated what he said back then — that Bristol had a much higher than average rate of deer-on-vehicle collisions (there have been 30 as of last counting, close to a town record even before the most active deer season, which is November), a higher rate of Lyme disease, and a high rate of property damage stemming from deer activity. All of those signs, he said, were indicative that there were far more than 15-20 deer per square mile in town, which is the target number that DEM considers healthy.

Currently, only about 15-20 deer are harvested legally from Bristol each year, which is allowed through licensed bow hunting on private property where the landowner has allowed it. The cooperative would open up four locations of town-owned property to exclusively bow hunters, with 200-foot buffers around each, and would allow each hunter to harvest a total of three deer during the hunting season.

“I’d like to see 40 deer harvested, and half as many hit by vehicles, that would be a huge win,” Ferreira said of the goals for the hunting program.

Ferreira explained how there are already existing hunting cooperatives in Rhode Island and throughout the United States. Such programs exist in Westerly, South Kingston, Jamestown, New Shoreham, Cranston, and Hopkinton. “It’s not something new to the state and myself,” he said.

Details on the hunting program
All hunters would be required to obtain a hunting license, permits for deer harvesting, and take a more intensive bow hunting education course offered through DEM. The agreement would also include provisions that protected the town from liability in the instance that a hunter is hurt while hunting on town-owned land.

The four sites proposed by Ferreira include a 150-acre site near Tupelo Street, a 65-acre site off Hopeworth Avenue, a 50-acre site near the town landfill, and a 40-acre site near Gooding Avenue.

Hunting hours throughout the five-month season would be from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour before sunset. Councilor Mary Parella asked if those hours could be adjusted or limited in order to reduce risk to members of the public who are recreating in the hunting zones, which Ferreira recommended against.

“It is something the town could decide…Block Island regulates weekends, holidays, winter break,” he said. “That is the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to reduce deer density, because those are the times the hunters can go as well. So I would advise against that. We don’t typically see hunters and non-hunters conflict on state lands or other cooperative properties. They can co-mingle very well.”

Ferreira, when asked of possible safety implications, said that incidents of injury involving bow hunting are nearly non-existent, and that signage would be prominently displayed in all areas opened to hunting. When asked if deer could be injured and escape into surrounding area, he said that hunters successfully kill a deer on the first arrow shot about 90 percent of the time, per their last hunting survey.

“Hunters aren’t heading out into the field to hurt animals,” Ferreira said. “They’re going out there to harvest a deer, to have sustainable meat for themselves, and hopefully reduce the deer population for the better of the whole population.”

Councilor Aaron Ley asked if the town would be able to receive data on how successful the program is in order to inform them of whether or not it was worth continuing. Ferreira said that DEM compiles hunting data each year that would be available to them. He added a cautionary message that, since the property allowing hunting was relatively small considering how much of Bristol is a friendly habitat to deer, results might not be immediate and could require additional steps.

“If it’s not working it doesn’t necessarily mean to pull back, it just means what else can we do to continue the chance of success, and that’s really where private property owners come into play,” he said. “So hopefully by the town taking the first step, private property owners will look at themselves and say maybe this is something I should do for the better of Bristol and the people of Bristol.”

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