County council supported a recommendation from its Police Services Board on Sept. 29 to ask the Ministry of Natural Resources and ask for a longer deer hunt this fall.
The request was made “in order to attempt to control the deer population.”
Councillor Lynda White, the county liaison to the Police Service Board, told council the request comes because there have been so many collisions involving deer in the past few months.
But councillor Barb McKay suggested, “My guess is it won’t happen this year.”
The hunts are usually set well in advance of the season.
White said that this year, hunters can apply for three deer tags.
Warden John Green said people might see similar requests for an extended wild turkey hunt. The birds were once extinct in this part of the province, but have been successfully re-introduced in the last ten years or so.
Wellington County is not the only area that is seeing too many accidents between deer and vehicles. Part of what could be alarming officials is that there were numerous accidents in May and June, which is not the traditional time for deer to be on the move. That means their populations are growing.
In Grey County, for example, 66% of all reportable collisions in May involved deer or other animals. In June, the percentage dropped, but the number of accidents increased. Over the two months, there were 77 crashes involving mainly deer, other large animals, and vehicles. That includes three police cruisers over the past year.
With the fall rut coming on, the traditional time that deer are on the move and drivers are at risk, police in both counties are issuing safety tips to avoid deer accidents.
MNR spokesman Art Timmerman confirmed on Oct. 10 that the deer population is on the rise.
“They’re doing very well. The deer population is quite high.”
When asked about the large number of collisions, he said, “I’ve seen similar statistics from other jurisdictions” and cited Manitoulin and the Niagara Peninsula.
He said Wellington County, minus Puslinch Township but including Wellesley, Wilmot, and Woolwich Townships in Waterloo Region, makes up Wildlife Management Unit 80.
In that area, there will be a controlled six-day deer hunt, running from Nov. 3 to 8. Hunters can use shotguns and muzzle loaders. And from Dec. 1 to 6, there is a hunt allowing muzzle loaders.
As well, the deer hunting season for archers runs Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 this year, except during the controlled hunts in November and December.
As for the big numbers of deer, Timmerman attributes that to a number of factors. It starts with milder winters, which means deer can come through that winter “in much better shape.”
Milder winters mean less snow, and easier and healthier searches for food supplies. Does usually carry two young to be born in spring, and with grain and corn available in open fields, they have a relatively stress free winter with nutritious food. That likely means two healthy births. In tough winters, one or both of the fawns might not survive.
Timmerman said another factor comes from deer being in areas where they are safe from hunters. That means they can be living close to built up areas like cities, where no shooting is permitted, or they can range on properties where the owner has closed it off to hunters.
In Puslinch Township, part of Wildlife Management Unit 87C, there is only one hunt. It runs in November. As well, archers can hunt there from Oct. 1 to the end of the year.
Timmerman said the MNR has already heard from the county about an extended hunt, and he is compiling statistics in preparation for a meeting with those officials.
He said that last year, the MNR issued 2,480 deer tags for WMU 80 for the November hunt, and another 300 tags for the December hunt.
“We’re talking 2,800 people allowed to hunt last fall,” he said.
Timmerman said that in Grey and Bruce Counties, hunters can also use rifles for deer hunting. Rifles are banned in Wellington because their bullets can travel too far for safety. In other counties, the population is much sparser so that is not as much a concern. He said that is considered a regular hunt, as opposed to a controlled hunt.
Timmerman said in the early days of controlling hunters to manage wildlife populations, hunters used to have to apply for tags and a lottery system was used, meaning some people were not allowed to hunt in a given year because the ministry was trying to increase the number of hunters to control the herds.
Today, he said, all those who legally apply can obtain a deer tag.
In Grey and Bruce Counties, hunters can buy a deer tag and have a licence to shoot only male deer. They need a special antlerless tag for anything else.
As for turkeys becoming a problem, Timmerman said he has heard of problems with accidents with turkeys and vehicles, but he has not heard any complaints in Wellington County to date.
In Wellington, there is a spring turkey hunt, for male turkeys only. Again, when the birds were being established, there used to be a lottery to get a permit to hunt them, but now anyone who applies can receive a permit.
Timmerman said 371 wild turkeys were harvested in the spring of 2008 in the WMU 80. There is no fall hunt here.
The wild turkey was eventually driven from Ontario by 1909 due to unregulated hunting and the loss of native forests that were cleared for agriculture.
Efforts to restore the eastern wild turkey to Ontario, which began in 1984, have been extremely successful and resulted in a rapid expansion of the number and range of the birds. Trap and transfer of established Ontario wild turkeys into new areas was initiated in the winter of 1986-87. In total, approximately 4,400 wild turkeys were released at 275 sites across the province as part of the release program.
Due to the influences of forestry, agriculture, and milder climactic conditions, the occupied range of wild turkeys in Ontario is now considerably larger than it was thought to be historically. Conversely, the intensification of agriculture (i.e., removal of natural habitat, large field size) in some parts of southern Ontario has prevented the birds from uniformly filling the entire landscape of their former range.
The first legal hunt for wild turkeys in Ontario occurred during the spring of 1987 but not in Wellington County. Hunting opportunities have increased and regulations have become less restrictive with increasing wild turkey populations.
The objectives for the wild turkey program in Ontario have changed somewhat over time. Previous efforts have focused on the restoration program while increasing the sustainable recreational and economic benefits from the birds. The next phase of the turkey program will focus on sustainable management of populations and harvest in southern Ontario while providing hunting opportunities where they exist in areas farther north.
The provincial population is estimated at over 70,000 birds and growing.
Timmerman said some areas are starting fall turkey hunts, “but not Wellington. There are in Grey and Bruce.”