More than 95,000 statewide. Densities range from about 10-15 deer per square mile in northwestern Massachusetts to more than 80 deer per square mile in areas of eastern MA closed to hunting.
The deer population is managed using 15 Wildlife Management Zones (WMZs) . The Fisheries and Wildlife Board oversees any changes to the. Hunting seasons , bag limits, and antlerless deer permit numbers, which are set annually to achieve goal densities.
In Massachusetts, there are 3 major hunting seasons Archery, Shotgun, and Muzzleloader. Deer hunting with rifles in Massachusetts is prohibited. There is no hunting on Sundays.
White-tailed deer are an important part of the ecosystem and a valuable natural resource. There were three historic, major predators of deer in MA (mountain lions, wolves, and humans) capable of balancing deer populations. Today, without regulated hunting, we see deer populations able to grow in numbers despite vehicle collisions, and predation by black bears, bobcats, and coyotes. When deer numbers exceed human tolerance, they are often viewed as pests, and can lead to public safety issues and property damage. Also, when deer numbers exceed what the habitat can support, the forest can be severely impacted, which can affect other plants and wildlife that MassWildlife is responsible for managing.
MassWildlife uses regulated hunting during three distinct hunting seasons (archery, shotgun, and primitive) to manage deer numbers across the state, with a goal to keep deer numbers below the level where major impacts are seen to the habitat, but in balance with social desires/tolerance. Hunters provide a unique service in helping to achieve this goal. However, for regulated hunting to be effective, hunters need access to lands to remove deer. There is adequate access in most of the state, and where there is adequate access, deer numbers appear to be balanced with the habitat and within or near MassWildlife’s management goals.
Where access is severely limited (discharge setbacks, lands closed to hunting, town by-laws requiring written permission) and/or effective methods are restricted (town by-laws that prohibit discharge of firearms), not enough deer are currently killed to stabilize or reduce deer numbers. This is occurring in much of eastern MA, but also any place in the state where large areas of land are closed to hunting or restrictions to hunting are prohibitive. Towns and landowners must work proactively to increase access to address their deer issues sooner than later, as deer numbers will continue to rise, making reduction efforts even more difficult in the future. MassWildlife staff are available to assist with questions from the public and from town managers regarding the complexities of deer management and effective strategies to reduce deer numbers.
It is important that landowners and hunters cooperate to safely and effectively manage the Commonwealth's deer resource within desired population density goals. If done correctly, we can all enjoy the benefits of a healthy statewide deer population.