Bow hunting season came to a close Saturday, with numbers well ahead of last year’s take.

The eight-week season, which began Oct. 2, showed an increase of 23 per cent in zone 13, which includes the Vineyard and surrounding Elizabeth Islands. Archers pulled in 291 deer this year compared to 236 in 2022. 

Overall numbers in 2022, which include bow, shotgun and primitive firearms, were 829 deer. 

Patrick Roden-Reynolds oversees the deer locker on the Agricultural Society grounds. — Ray Ewing

Archery is the most popular form of deer hunting on the Vineyard and across the state, said Martin Feehan, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife deer and moose project leader. 

Most young hunters start out with a bow and arrow, said Mr. Feehan, and tend to stick with it. Plus, bow hunting season is six weeks longer than shotgun season.

“The majority of deer statewide are now taken using archery equipment,” Mr. Feehan said. “Another reason it’s so popular is because people have much more hunting opportunity if they do archery.”

Shotgun season began Monday, Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 9. Primitive firearm season runs from Dec. 11 to Dec. 30

Patrick Roden-Reynolds, who supervises the community deer cooler located on the Agricultural Society grounds in West Tisbury, said another reason for the Vineyard’s bountiful harvest can be attributed to the Agricultural Society’s incentive program, which pays hunters $100 apiece for every doe they take after the first two. 

“For most hunters, once they take one or two [deer] their personal freezer is full,” Mr. Roden-Reynolds said. “They’re happy and, you know, hunting’s kind of hard work. But with this incentive program, we’re saying, hey, we’re trying to reduce the population here, so bring us some more [does] and we’ll store them. I have a hunter who’s checked in 12 deer so far.”

Hunting, no matter the method, is an important part of controlling the Island’s exceptionally-high deer population, Mr. Roden-Reynolds said. Without any natural predators, Vineyard deer — of which there are an estimated 45 per square mile — multiply each year. 

The state also provides its own encouragement. The Vineyard is one of a few communities in Massachusetts where hunters are permitted to take an unlimited amount of antler-less deer — females and young males with antlers smaller than three inches. 

Hunters who store their deer at the Agricultural Society cooler are also incentivized to participate in Island Grown Initiative’s venison donation program. Carcasses weighing a minimum of 60 pounds can be donated by hunters to the Island Food Pantry. 

“We’ve had seven donations so far,” said Mr. Roden-Reynolds. “Last year we had 10 in total, so I’m hoping that this year we can double that.”

Mr. Roden-Reynold said that his job at the cooler, which is just one element of his role as a public health biologist with Dukes County, combines his two specialties: deer hunting and tick control. 

When a hunter makes a delivery, Mr. Roden-Reynolds examines the deer for engorged deer ticks and other parasites that he can pick off and send to the lab for research. 

“I can’t really get all of them, though,” he said, as he shook a carcass and ticks rained down onto the cooler floor. 

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Mr. Roden-Reynolds bow hunted with his family and learned from an early age to be wary of ticks and tick-borne illnesses. But it was not until graduate school that he began researching tick control and started down his path to becoming head of the Island’s tick-borne illness prevention program and the unofficial “tick czar” of the Vineyard. 

“I’m usually just picking off deer ticks, but this year I’ve picked two lone star ticks off the deer which I don’t remember doing last year,” he said. 

Lone star ticks, which can transmit alpha-gal syndrome — an illness that causes people to be allergic to beef, pork and other animal products — were once found only around Aquinnah and Chappaquiddick. This year, the ticks have proven pervasive and have been spotted in all six Island towns. 

“They’re just everywhere,” Mr. Roden-Reynolds said. “So I don’t even bother tracking or documenting where a hunter got a particular deer.”

Mr. Roden-Reynolds said that as far as he knows there is no risk of tick disease for humans who consume cooked venison.

“I do need to look into it more, but I’ve never worried about it myself,” he said. “Plus, you’re processing the meat and cooking it thoroughly so that’ll kill any bacteria.”

Mr. Roden-Reynold’s expertise is in bow hunting, but he plans to take part in shotgun season too. He has yet to bag a deer with a gun, but is hoping that will change this season. He can never have too much venison, he said. 

“What you can do is take a chunk of venison, a slice of onion, a slice of jalapeño and top it off with a dollop of cream cheese, and boy, that’s really good,” said Mr. Roden-Reynolds. “It makes the work worth it.”

Editors note: article was corrected to reflect that bow hunting season is eight weeks long.