Deer hunting season began on the Island Oct. 2 and continues through Dec. 30. The season opens with bow hunting, followed by shotgun and primitive firearms seasons on Nov. 27 and Dec. 11, respectively.

Hunting is allowed Monday through Saturday, from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.

According to state preliminary data, the 2022 deer harvest set a new record for Massachusetts at 15,853 total deer, continuing an upward trend established in 2017. Vineyarders alone pulled in 829 deer, a significant increase from the previous year’s 667. The local record at 1,119 deer harvested by Vineyard hunters took place in 2019.

Last year, after a 28 per cent decrease in the Island’s harvest in 2021, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) removed limits on the number of deer permits allocated per season on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Martha’s Vineyard deer population is roughly four times the state average, with a minimum of 45 deer per square mile. 

The change, MassDFW deer and moose project leader Martin Feehan said, was virtually unnoticeable since permits allocated to Martha's Vineyard have long outnumbered applicants.

“Permits haven't sold out since 1988,” Mr. Feehan said. “Effectively, we're now just being transparent that there are no limits.” 

Mr. Feehan added that the dip in 2021 was seen nationwide, likely due to changing habits after the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, he expects the Island and the state to continue on an overall upward trend.

“According to all indications right now, we expect a pretty robust season,” Mr. Feehan said.

The increased numbers came as a relief to wildlife experts looking to curb the Island’s deer stock and with it, the spread of tickborne illnesses. White-tailed deer are prime hosts for deer ticks, who breed and feed on the herbivore.

Patrick Roden-Reynolds is the public health biologist at Island Health Care and the unofficial “tick czar” of Martha’s Vineyard, heading the Island’s tickborne illness prevention program.

“We found more ticks in yards in 2022 than in any other year in the past,” Mr. Roden-Reynolds told the Gazette in May.

Last season, Mr. Roden-Reynolds also took over management of the Vineyard’s public deer locker, which allows hunters to store their game for a fee and donate venison to the Island food pantry. He said the locker checked in 80 deer last season, with 10 donated to the venison program.

In past years, donation programs have limited the size of donations to deer weighing at least 75 pounds. But this year, Mr. Roden-Reynolds said the program has reduced the cutoff to 60 pounds to increase donation numbers.

The venison donation program has been run by Island Grown Inititiave (IGI) in partnership with the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society and the tickborne illness prevention program since 2017. As a result of its success, Mr. Feehan said the state has started its own statewide donation program, “Share the Harvest,” modeled after the IGI program. While not available on the Vineyard, the program encourages hunters to donate whole deer or portions of their processed venison to various food banks or the state's “Food for Vets” program.

“The IGI program has been pretty successful...we don't want to interfere with that program,” Mr. Feehan said. 

As another means to control the Island’s deer population, the locker has run an incentive program for hunters who bring in female deer — Island hunters can take two bucks per season but an unlimited amount of does. Since 2019, bow hunters have been paid $100 apiece for every doe they take after the first two. Last year, the locker saw 18 female deer brought in by six hunters, Mr. Roden-Reynolds said.

Although there’s no guarantee the hot streak will continue, Mr. Roden-Reynolds is hopeful this season’s numbers remain high.

“Every year is different,” he said. “Only time will tell.”

For more information about Island deer programs, visit