By Susan Shultz, published in The Darien Times on January 12, 2006

The town deer hunt, which was to continue until the end of hunting season on Jan. 31, was “officially ended” two weeks early, according to Rob Lucas, master of the hunt.

“The recommendation to Parks & Recreation from myself, Kent Haydock and Friends of Selleck’s Woods was that the hunt was a success for the time being,” Lucas said.

Lucas said that the original goal of 12 had been cut in half after the Darien Land Trust was unable to obtain the required insurance to have the hunt take place on Dunlap Woods, which would have doubled the acreage.

“That cut the area down by half, to 28 acres, so we cut our goal to 6 deer,” he said.

Lucas said that the poor design of the hunt prompted him to recommend halting it, and that the most deer the hunters ever saw in a day were 7.

“I saw it as being a diminishing return, if it were to continue, the hunters would lose interest – to continue for two more weeks for one more deer is not worth it,” he said.

Despite the low count of deer killed, Lucas said he would not call the hunt a failure.

“We got three does, which give birth to an average of two fawns, which means nine fewer deer next year,” he said.

According to a press release from the town Deer Management Committee, prepared by Kent Haydock, all hunters were advised to stop hunting and remove their tree stands. The signs closing Selleck’s Woods for hunting have also been removed and the park’s normal visiting hours have resumed, he said.

The press release also indicates that the “year-long project was a productive experiment in animal control in a number of ways.”

Haydock also noted that “local newspapers have provided very valuable public information over recent years on accepted medical and scientific findings which bear upon protecting the health and safety of our community and restoration of our prized woodlands.” These findings, according to Haydock’s press release, indicate that “the only viable way to control the exponential increase in deer population is by regular culling.”

The press release also includes that “many previous local surveys plus continual ‘grass roots’ contacts by people involved, demonstrate that a large majority of Darien residents support this kind of action.”

Friends of Animals, an international animal rights organization based in Darien, has been vocal about their objections to hunting as a method of controlling deer population.

Priscilla Feral, president of the organization, said that Friends of Animals wasn’t surprised that the hunters haven’t met their expected quota for killing deer on the nature preserve, but still expressed regret for the three that were killed.

“All the ink in the paper cannot bring those lives back,” she said.

Feral said that the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance and their “apologists” at the state Department of Environmental Protection have advanced “specious arguments” which she said were “railroaded” through several towns.

“What has changed is that people are starting to scrutinize that nefarious agenda, although Friends of Animals were never meant to have a voice – an open forum and public debate wasn’t part of their scheme,” Feral said.

Lucas said he hoped that if the hunt is held again next season, he will have learned from what they did this year.

“If we design the hunt differently, we will have different results,” he said.

First Selectman Evonne Klein has said that as of now, a deer cull has not been listed in the Board of Selectmen’s priorities and has not been budgeted for, so it might not happen. In the meantime, Feral said that “residents of Darien can begin thinking about respecting deer and showing our ability to live positive, creative lives ourselves.”