It is open season on deer in Hampton Point and Hampton Plantation on the northern tip of St. Simons Island this week, and the limit is 20.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting a controlled culling of the deer population in the area, said Odin Stephens, state director of USDA’s Wildlife Services. A recent scientific study by USDA determined that the deer population there has grown too large to sustain itself in a healthy manner.
A scientific surveillance determined there are a minimum of 64 deer within a 500-acre range on the island’s north end, Stephens said. An outside party asked USDA to conduct the study.
“In order to reduce environmental impacts, private property damage and reduce human/health safety issues, it was recommended to reduce the population of White-tailed deer,” Stephens wrote in a response to emailed questions from The News. “Additionally, without incorporating some mortality into the population, the deer herd could be more susceptible to diseases.”
The culling will take place on two nights this week, according to a Hampton Plantation Property Owners’ Association letter.
The trained USDA staff will kill “approximately 20 deer,” according to the Hampton Plantation property owners’ letter.
The USDA specialists who will shoot the deer will observe several layers of precaution and safety, said Stephens, a USDA certified wildlife biologist based in Athens.
“All of our firearm experts must pass firearms safety and proficiency qualifications before participating in deer removal operations and must re-qualify on a yearly basis,” he wrote. “They are trained and equipped with the latest tools and techniques to reduce disturbance and allow for efficient and safe deer removal.”
The biologists will set out bait to attract deer to a shooting location of their choosing. Thermal imaging, night vision equipment and spotlighting will be employed. Firearm suppressors will be used to muffle gunfire.
The biologists use “appropriate ammunition” and set up downward shots on the targeted deer.
The Hampton Plantation homeowners’ letter said the culling “will take place on the marsh, vacant lots, and common areas chosen as a result of the survey … The action is necessary to assure a healthy deer population and to reduce the impact of the neighborhood.”
The letter said the culling will concentrate on does without dependent fawns.
Stephens said venison from the culled deer will go to food banks and zoos.
Hampton Point resident Audrey Monks is not happy about it. First of all, she loves the deer and all other wildlife on the island’s north end. While she understands there might be a need to cull some deer for the betterment of the overall population, she wishes Hampton Point residents had an opportunity to provide input.
She first heard of the planned culling Monday when she was sent a copy of the neighboring Hampton Plantation community’s newsletter.
She worries about the potential of stray gunfire also.
“I think the majority of homeowners move here because you have more wildlife,” she said. “I understand if they feel like it’s overpopulated. Just not notifying people in a timely manner is what upsets me. It was handled wrong. They should have given people an opportunity to have input. There could be rifles and shooting in close proximity. And no homeowners got a say. It’s mostly a safety issue, really.”