Deer hunting: Making inroads on private property
An estimated 1,215 deer call Wilton home — about 45 per square mile — almost as many students as attend Wilton High School.
This is an improvement from nearly 1,900 estimated in 2003, but a more appropriate number would be in the range of 400, according to Wilton’s deer committee. The committee set a target for 300 to be taken during the 2012-13 hunting season, but only 160 were harvested. That is the same target for this year.
For the past five years, Wilton has encouraged private property owners to open their land to bow-and-arrow hunters approved and signed up with the town. This complements the town-sanctioned hunts on public land.
Timothy Fridinger has been hunting three parcels on Scribner Hill Road as part of the program and has taken a total of 10 deer over the past five years.
The property owners, who asked not to be named, said they had been overrun with deer. They met Mr. Fridinger, who is a Wilton police officer, when he was investigating a robbery in the area. They got into a conversation about hunting and invited Mr. Fridinger to hunt on two of their properties that are almost adjacent. Their neighbor, whose property is in between, got on board as well, bringing the land available to about seven acres. Mr. Fridinger said his range with a bow and arrow is about 30 to 35 yards.
This setup, Mr. Fridinger said, is ideal. The property is of good size, he is not in direct view of any of the homes, and the neighbor is on board.
Mr. Fridinger explained that not every parcel is conducive to hunting. Deer change their habits from season to season, and now through Jan. 31, when the hunting season ends, as far as deer are concerned it is all about the food. Deer who can be seen on lawns or browsing a homeowner’s landscaping in the spring and summer will be in the woods this month feasting on a lush acorn crop. The acorns allow the deer to bulk up on fat for the winter. When the acorns are gone, they will seek other food sources.
Mr. Fridinger said a deer he shot earlier this month was “one of the fattest deer” he’d seen this time of year. “The head start they have right now shows how abundant they are this year,” he said.
Properties that are good for hunters are the ones that are attractive to deer.
“There has to be a reason for the deer to be there,” Mr. Fridinger said, “whether it is oak trees with acorns or a game trail that they move on.” Deer will generally follow the same path to food sources and the area where they bed down for the day.
Mr. Fridinger walked about 80 yards into the woods and showed The Bulletin a narrow, beaten-down path the deer frequent. “I look for droppings and how they are browsing the brush,” he said. He showed a shrub where the deer had nipped off the tips of the branches.
Deer may not frequent the same areas from year to year. Superstorm Sandy dropped so many trees in the woods, deer had to find new paths to travel.
“As much as they adapt, we have to adapt to their patterns,” he said. “You can’t just walk into the woods and expect them to show up.”
Just as important as the land is the cooperation of neighbors. Mr. Fridinger said he will not hunt where a property owner’s neighbors can see him and they are opposed to hunting.
“A homeowner needs to talk to the neighbors,” he said. Even with a fatal shot, a deer can run 30 yards or so. If it runs onto someone else’s property a hunter must be able to go after it without trespassing. If he can’t go onto someone else’s property he can’t get the deer and then the dead animal is the responsibility of the owner whose property it is on.
Mr. Fridinger, who said he has been hunting since he was a boy, hunts from a low-profile tree stand about 18 feet in the air. He dresses in camouflage and from the stand he shoots downward. The stand is situated so the wind is in his face, preventing the deer from picking up his scent.
Baiting of deer is allowed in this zone, and he has a metal feeder with an electronic timer that dispenses corn. On a tree near the feeder is a motion-sensor camera. From the pictures it takes, he can tell if deer are moving near his stand.
Hunting is allowed from half an hour before sunrise until sunset, but since deer are more active at night, Mr. Fridinger hunts in the early morning or evening.
He can be in his tree stand for several hours, and when asked what he does while waiting, he said, “I just go up there and the time just dissolves away. It’s just being one with nature. I just like to be one with nature.”
The more inclement the weather is the better the hunting tends to be, he said. A decline in food forces deer to move more in search of something to eat, making it more likely they will pass by his stand.
The property owners where Mr. Fridinger hunts say the number of deer they see has declined, and those they do see stay far away from their house. Interestingly, Mr. Fridinger said the deer he kills have far fewer ticks on them than those in years past.
More than 30 hunters are available to hunt on private property in Wilton. They have all passed a proficiency test and background check. Hunters who come on private property at the invitation of the homeowner work for no fee and are at the direction of the property owner.
Information: email the Deer Management Committee at Deercommittee@wiltonct.org or call Pat Sesto, director of Environmental Affairs, at 203-563-0180.