Deer Management

Why Deer Management is Necessary

Negative Impacts of Overabundant Deer

Studies have found that at high densities, the amount of browsing done by deer can have detrimental effects on forest communities. Overbrowsing can eliminate understory herbaceous plants, shrubs, and saplings resulting in a forest with little but adult canopy trees. Native understory plants are a critical source of food and cover for other wildlife species in the forest. The loss of these plants can be very detrimental to these other species. Saplings represent the future canopy layer. As older trees die, saplings will grow up to replace them. Uncontrolled overbrowsing by deer can result in the failure of forest regeneration.

The removal of native plants from an ecosystem opens it up to invasion by exotic plants. Generally, deer do not browse these plants giving them a competitive advantage over native species. Once invasive plants get a foothold, they can quickly spread and overtake large expanses of habitat. Invasive plants provide little to no value to wildlife species in terms of food or cover quality. The removal of invasive plants over large areas requires enormous amounts of time, money, and manpower.

The primary goal of the MCPC’s Deer Management Program is to manage the deer population in a way that promotes maximum biodiversity levels in the habitats under its care. In many parks, all evidence points to the fact that deer populations are still too high. In selected parks of this nature, the MCPC continues to work towards reducing populations to levels that will allow for successful habitat restoration, both natural and assisted. Other parks exhibit little damage from deer and contain lower density populations. In these parks, the goal is to maintain the deer population at levels that allow healthy habitats to continue to thrive. The MCPC requires hunters registered in the program to focus their harvest efforts on female deer. Since females can reach reproductive maturity at one year of age and generally produce two fawns each year, they can contribute the most to population growth.

Hunters

About the Program

  • The MCPC’s Deer Management Program is a controlled hunting program aimed at minimizing the threats posed to forest health by overabundant deer populations.
  • The primary goal of the program is to focus harvest efforts on female deer.
  • The MCPC reserves the right to remove hunters that are not meeting this goal at its discretion.
  • The MCPC has adopted special rules and regulations specific to hunting in the Morris County park system.
  • Hunting in a MCPC facility is by MCPC-issued access permit only. Any person found hunting in a MCPC facility without an access permit will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Special Access Permit

  • Permits are issued annually.
  • Permits allow access to a specific park for the dates and times specified on the permit.
  • Permits are weapon specific; bow or firearm.

The Application Process

  • Hunters must apply to the MCPC for a permit each year.
  • Applications are processed through regular mail.
  • Two lotteries are held to distribute permits.
    • The first lottery is only open to return hunters that have followed all rules and regulations, and that have displayed satisfactory participation and attendance as determined by the MCPC.
    • The second lottery is open to all new hunters.
  • New hunters are required to attend a mandatory orientation session before they can pick up their permit(s).
  • Participation during a previous year is not a guarantee that an applicant will be selected for a permit the following year.
  • A permit for a particular park one year is not a guarantee that an applicant will be selected for that park the following year.

Keep In Mind

  • Participation in the program is not a right. The MCPC reserves the right to suspend or reject individuals as necessary.
  • The MCPC expects all hunters to abide by very strict safety standards. Rule violations are not tolerated and can result in permanent suspension from the program.
  • Hunters are expected to show regard for other hunters, non-hunting park patrons, park neighbors, and MCPC staff.
  • Hunters who are selected for a permit in the lottery but decide that they no longer want the permit must notify the MCPC so that it can be assigned to another individual. Failure to notify the MCPC will render the individual ineligible to apply in the future.

End-of-Season Survey Form

  • All registered hunters are required to submit an end-of-season survey form at the conclusion of each year’s program.
  • Forms are mailed out to registered hunters towards the end of the hunting season and include a postage-paid envelope addressed to the MCPC.
  • The harvest information supplied by each hunter is verified with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife by cross referencing their Automated Game Check System records using each hunter’s CID number.
  • Individuals found to be supplying false information will not be permitted back in the program.
  • Failure to submit the survey by the specified deadline will result in automatic disqualification from the following year’s program.

FAQs

Will a MCPC-issued permit allow me to hunt in any County park?

No. Bow permits are park-specific and only allow access to a particular park on the dates and times specified by the MCPC. A firearm permit will allow access to all designated firearm areas according to the designated schedule.

How many permits are distributed each year?

The number of permits distributed for a particular park is limited based on the size of the huntable area in that park. This limit is generally set at 1 hunter per 15 acres of huntable land. The number of permits distributed in a given year depends on the number and size of the parks included in that year’s program.

I’m interested in hunting a particular County park but it is not on the list of available hunting sites.

The parks included in the program are subject to change each year based on staff assessments of the number of deer taken in previous years’ hunts, deer density observations, impacts to forest health, and consideration of other park users. There are a number of parks that to date, have not been included in the program. This does not necessarily mean they will never be included in the future. Also, just because a park has been included in the program during a given year is not a guarantee that it will be included the following year.

I’m interested in a particular County park but a) my application never gets selected or b) it is always full by the time I get to apply.

Since the number of permits that the MCPC can issue for a particular park is based on its size, the smaller parks tend to receive many more applications than there are permits available. Parks in the eastern part of the County also tend to receive many more applications than there are permits available because they are more conveniently located for many people. These parks usually fill up during the first application round which is only open to return hunters.

New applicants may need to get involved in the program through another park before they have a chance to apply for a permit in their first-choice park.

How much does an access permit cost?

The cost for an annual access bow permit is currently $40 for Morris County residents and $60 for non-county residents per park.

The cost for an annual access firearm permit is currently $20 for Morris County residents and $40 for non-county residents.

These fees are non-refundable.

Please note that these fees do not cover the NJDFWs license and permit costs. This fee is subject to change as deemed necessary by the MCPC.

Who is eligible to apply?

Any hunter with a valid NJ hunting license is eligible to apply for the program. Applicants are required to submit a copy of a valid hunting license with the application form, along with a copy of a photo ID. There is not a Morris County residency requirement, though the permit fee for non-county residents is slightly higher than the fee for Morris County residents.

I had a permit last year. Can I use it again this year?

No. Permits are only valid for the dates specified on the permit. All hunters must reapply for a permit each year. Access to a particular park during a prior year is not a guarantee that you will be selected for a permit in that park the following year.

Can I bring someone with me when I’m hunting in a MCPC property?

Though hunters are permitted to hunt in groups, each hunter in the group must have an MCPC-issued access permit for the park in question. You may not bring anyone along with you while hunting in the park system if they do not have a special access permit, even if that individual will not be carrying a weapon.

Can I hunt in the Morris County park system on Sundays?

Hunting on Sundays is not permitted in County parks by State law. Hunters should check the dates listed at the top of their permit to verify when hunting is permitted in a park.

Does a permit allow me to hunt other animals besides deer?

No. A permit only allows for the hunting of deer by the means and on the dates specified on the permit. The hunting of any other animals is strictly prohibited.

What happens to the deer that I harvest?

All deer that are harvested belong to the hunter that harvested them. Hunters are responsible for all processing fees they incur.

I am a participant in the program. I have a relative or friend that is interested. What can they do?

New applicants are only eligible to apply during the second round of applications. Their contact information must be added to the waiting list as specified below.

I’m interested in applying. What do I do?

You can add your contact information to the waiting list by using our online form or by calling 973.285.6552. All individuals on the waiting list will receive application instructions, usually in late July or early August. The application will specify which parks still have permits available.

Non-Hunters

For Non-Hunters

Even if you don’t hunt, it is important to know information about hunting, public access, and hunting schedules, and more to be prepared and aware of hunting seasons.

Hunting Schedule

  • In New Jersey, the hunting of deer is permitted from September to February.
  • The MCPC establishes a hunting schedule each year based on the dates permitted under New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations.
  • The MCPC usually prepares its hunting schedule during the summer. The schedule is then reviewed at a MCPC public meeting.
  • The schedule is posted online each year.
  • Since the list of parks included in the program is subject to change each year, it is important to check the schedule each year.
  • By State law, no hunting is permitted at MCPC facilities on Sundays.

Public Access to Hunted Parks

  • Parks and trails will be closed to the public on dates when hunting with firearms is scheduled.
  • Firearm hunts occur over 5-10 days in December through February.
  • Park closure dates are always scheduled during weekdays to minimize inconvenience to non-hunting park patrons.
  • Unless otherwise specified, parks and trails remain open on dates when bow hunting is scheduled.
  • Park patrons must remain on trails when visiting a park. Hunters are required to maintain a sufficient distance from trails to minimize any negative encounters.

Hunting Signs

  • Parks have signs posted in parking areas and major trail heads that specify the type of hunting scheduled and any park closure dates.
  • Residents that live adjacent to a County park are advised to check the website or call the MCPC to verify whether hunting is scheduled for that park.
  • Since signs are only posted on official MCPC blazed trails, individuals that access the parks using non-designated paths may not see sign postings.

Designated Hunting Areas

  • All hunters are provided with a hunt map for the park in which they are registered.
  • Hunt maps indicate which areas of the park hunters can access to hunt deer.
  • Hunters are required to maintain a distance of 450 feet from occupied buildings and school playgrounds when in possession of a loaded firearm or nocked arrow. This area is referred to as a “safety zone” and is taken into account on the hunt maps.
  • Hunt maps are subject to updates each year.

Reporting Negative Incidents

Hunting on unscheduled dates, the entering of safety zones and other unlawful behavior is not tolerated by the MCPC. Observations of inappropriate activity should be reported to the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division, as they are occurring by calling: 973.285.2900.

FAQs

Why does the MCPC conduct a hunting program every year?

The white-tailed deer is a species with a capacity for very rapid population growth. Females can reach reproductive maturity as early as one year of age and can produce up to three fawns each year. The presence of few natural predators in this region and supplemental feeding by well-meaning homeowners contribute to a continuously expanding population. By allowing for limited hunting on an annual basis, we are applying continuous pressure on the deer population in an attempt to curb the rapid population growth they are capable of.

I hike in a park that supports a healthy forest full of native plants. Why is the MCPC allowing hunting in this park?

The MCPC is fortunate to have a number of parks that are still capable of maintaining diverse plant and wildlife communities. Limited hunting is occasionally permitted in these areas to aid in preventing the deer population from growing to a point that would undermine the stability of these communities.

Why doesn’t the MCPC pursue non-lethal methods of controlling the deer population?

While the MCPC understands that hunting is a polarizing issue, it is currently the most efficient and cost-effective method available for managing deer populations. The MCPC has experimented with a number of non-lethal control methods without success. The methods that have been tried include the following:

  • Immunocontraception: Immunocontraception is a form of birth control that works with an animal’s immune system to block fertilization thereby preventing pregnancy. The MCPC conducted a trial immunocontraception program at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum from 1997 to 2000 in cooperation with the Humane Society of the United States. The study focused on the effectiveness of the porcine zona pellucid (PZP) vaccine on wild white-tailed deer. During the program, 10 female deer received doses of PZP and were tagged to facilitate the observation process. An evaluation of the program found immunocontraception to be an ineffective and inefficient means to control high numbers of deer within the park system due primarily to the difficulty of annually relocating tagged deer for the mandatory booster shot of contraceptive vaccine but also due to the levels of effort and costs associated with capturing deer to deliver the vaccine.
  • Repellents: Repellents are products that reduce the attractiveness of plants to deer. Repellents are generally either taste orodor based. Taste based repellents are applied to plant surfaces to make them less palatable to deer. Odor based repellentscan either be applied to target plants or placed in their vicinity to discourage deer from entering the area to consume them.The MCPC has experimented with the use of commercially available repellents for a number of years, particularly at its horticultural facilities. The results have indicated that the effectiveness of repellents is very limited. Repellents are costly and labor intensive to apply. They must be applied continuously because they do not last for long periods of time, especiallyunder adverse weather conditions. These aspects make repellents an unfeasible option for the large expanses of land underthe MCPC’s care.
  • Fencing: Fences of sufficient height have been proven effective in excluding deer from areas of interest. The MCPC has erected deer exclosure fences at several of its horticultural facilities to protect valuable plant collections from damage by deer. Temporary fences are also used on much smaller scales throughout the park system to protect habitat restoration sites and for research purposes. Permanent fencing can be quite costly with prices currently ranging from about $3 to $10 per linear foot in the local area. With over 18,000 acres of land under its protection, fencing is not a practical option for large scale deer management within the park system. Also, deer exclosure fencing can restrict the passage of other mammal species making it an undesirable option for the preservation of ecological communities. Finally, the MCPC recognizes that the use of fencing does not address the underlying issue of deer overpopulation but simply forces the deer to use other locations.

I would like to visit a particular park but there is hunting scheduled to take place. I don’t feel comfortable hiking while hunters are in the park.

While individuals are generally permitted to visit the parks on dates when bow hunting could be occurring, the MCPC understands that not everyone is comfortable hiking in areas where hunting may be taking place. Hunting is never permitted in every park in the park system during a given year. Individuals are advised to consult the hunt schedule to determine what other options in the park system are available to them for recreational pursuits.

Hunting on Sundays continues to be prohibited in the park system and individuals may feel more comfortable restricting their visits to Sundays in parks in which hunting is scheduled to occur.

I enjoy observing deer and no longer see them in the parks since the hunting program began. How does the MCPC know that the hunting program isn’t eliminating deer from our area?

Complete extermination of the deer population is not the goal of the MCPC’s Deer Management Program. The white-tailed deer is a species that is native to the area and as such forms an important component of a functioning local ecosystem. The limited hunting that is permitted by the MCPC will never serve to abolish the local deer population. The NJDFW estimated that there were approximately 140,000 deer in the state of New Jersey in 2006. Since 2005, the MCPC’s Deer Management Program has resulted in an average harvest of 255 deer per year. Given the species ability for rapid population growth, it would be near impossible to exterminate the deer population at this level of management. White-tailed deer exhibit seasonal behavior and their visibility can be affected by a number of environmental factors including food availability and weather conditions. While conditions may have promoted a large number of deer in a specific area one year, different conditions could prompt their relocation to another area the following year leading to a reduction in the number of sightings.

How many deer are there on MCPC properties?

Conducting a complete census of the Morris County deer population is an unrealistic objective. White-tailed deer are very difficult tocount due to their mobility. While MCPC staff could attempt to count all deer within the boundaries of the parks, the movement of deer across these boundaries would lead to inaccurate counts. Even if the MCPC was capable of conducting a park system wide population census, it would represent a one-time snapshot of the population. The number could change substantially over a relatively short period of time. The MCPC does utilize several available methods to produce estimates of the number of deer in particular areas of the park system. Some of these methods include the use of aerial infrared technology, spotlight deer surveys, and evaluation of hunter observation logs.

Aerial infrared surveys involve the use of camera-equipped aircraft with special sensors that take photographs of deer on transects that are flown at night. The photographs are then used to produce an estimate of the deer in the area that was surveyed. These surveys are contracted out to specialized companies and are too costly to implement on a frequent basis or over very large expansesof land. Spotlight surveys require staff to drive selected routes at night at low speeds with observers using spotlights to count the number of deer seen on either side of the vehicle. Hunter surveys are distributed to all bow hunters registered in the MCPC’s Deer Management Program and ask for information about the number of deer observed during their outings in the park system. While all of these methods provide valuable insight as to deer population size, it is primarily the information collected about the health of the forest that indicates the need for a management program.

I do not approve of hunters. Why doesn’t the MCPC hire a professional company to remove deer from the parks?

Permitting hunters to access the parks for the purposes of hunting deer is currently the most efficient, effective, and financially prudent way available to the MCPC for managing the deer population. Hunters get the opportunity to pursue an activity they enjoy while contributing to the conservation goals of the MCPC. The deer that are harvested belong to the hunter and are often used to provide food for their families. In some cases, excess meat is donated to local food shelters. To be eligible for consideration for the MCPC’s Deer Management Program, all hunters must present a copy of a valid NJ state hunting license. Licenses are issued by the NJDFW. To obtain a hunting license from the NJDFW, first-time hunters must pass a hunter education course which includes a proficiency test for the weapon they intend to utilize. The costs associated with professional companies can get quite high and would not be a feasible option for the amount of land under the MCPC’s care.

Data & Resources

Deer Surveys

Since 2020 the MCPC has worked with the Raritan Valley Community College Center for Environmental Studies to conduct infrared drone surveys to estimate deer densities in 12 Morris County Parks. These surveys count individual deer within the park and a designated buffer zone to estimate the total number of deer per square mile. These results help the MCPC staff gauge areas of particular concern for deer overpopulation and the overall effectiveness of the deer management program. As of January 1, 2023, the MCPC has surveyed over 40 square miles of Morris County.