It’s the wind, I would guess. Wind is just one element of what makes Block Island a special place, swept with strong winds most every day over rolling hills, kettle ponds and hundreds of acres of brush. In much of the brush, briars, Russian olives and bayberry are herds of deer looking for cover and lunch. There are still sea bass around and a few guys surf casting under the North Light for stripers but most have turned to deer hunting. With some preparation paperwork and patience, you can find land to hunt and really enjoy the off-season island.
Back in the day, 6 deer were brought here in crates on the ferry by RIDEM at the request of some islanders; a lively experiment which quickly quickly became a major problem for landowners. Over the years their role evolved, from a novelty, to a regular part of the scenery, to a full on nuisance as the population exploded with abundant food sources and no natural predators. Their diet includes rhododendrons, some endangered wildflowers, certain vegetation important for shoreline stabilization and a bounty from backyard gardens.
As people bought up more land, habitat decreased, gardens full of flowers and nutritious greens increased, patience for deer decreased, roads, foundations, swimming pools increased, soft bedding and thickets to hide in decreased. So hunting went from sport to a necessity. Then came landowner permission forms, police signoffs and visits from RIDEM. Let’s not forget Lyme Disease, which has put Block Island in the national spotlight. Rhode Island has an incidence rate of 50 cases of Lyme per hundred thousand persons, which when compared to the national average of 7.9, shows just how severe the problem is.
Some estimates have put the deer count at over a thousand animals but determining an actual number is largely impossible. DEM recommends a population of 8-15 deer per square mile and puts the island’s count at over 80 per square mile. On average, a doe has between one and three fawns in a litter, although triplets are rare and all is based on the availability of food, so it’s easy to understand how the numbers keep growing.
Last year an incentive program was started to thin the herds so island hunters were paid one hundred and fifty dollars per deer tail. Nancy Dodge, the island’s town manager, has reported that approximately four hundred were harvested and that the program would be used again this year. That is a lot of deer from a small island by any estimation.
If you plan to hunt on the island, you will need landowner permission for each property, which needs to be signed by the police department, in addition to a state hunting license and deer tags, which can be bought at the town hall. The season there also runs much longer than on the mainland, which is an advantage. You also need a very strong understanding of how the island is laid out and who is where this time of year. Gone are the days when streets were rolled up after the last boat on Labor Day. When people started putting heat in summer cottages, they stayed much later into the year. Knowing whose house is still occupied or where someone hangs out their laundry will keep everyone safe.
Certain town and state areas are open on a limited calendar, like Rodmans Hollow and some areas on the north end.
Last year we hunted one far off the main road for a few days. Consideringthe pressure deer can feel during hunting season, it’s remarkable that so few hunters opt to hike in a mile to comb for hours through itchy tall grasses, lie motionless in a sand dune with 25 degree west wind relentlessly pelting your firing pin with fine sands or try to silently step along thin paths lined with brambles briars and thorns better suited for sides of a Viking helmet. A successful pursuit over such scenic, even isolated open space then begs the question: how would you ever drag a deer out of there?
As the tight-lipped, sharp shooting Ace-1 wise islander Gene Hall is known to quip, “All the fun ends when you pull the trigger”. Last year, after thirty minutes of a sad, two man dragging operation for a hundred and fifty pound buck, we opted to back my pickup down a path which might have been a road back in colonial days and was now much better suited for feet and not tires, to save our backs. It really did not go well. Out there, everyone has a few thousand scratches down the whole length of their truck, they just call them Block Island racing stripes. We did get the deer out eventually, the truck earned her stripes and one tail light was far cheaper than 6 visits to my favorite chiropractor.
Deer hunting on Block Island, especially earlier in the season, also means a chance to fish for stripers or maybe hit a few freshwater ponds for largemouth but most importantly, take in some of the landscapes and winds. Perhaps it will be more difficult this year than in the past but the clear, sunny fall days on fall on the island are perfect for sitting in a tree stand or hiding in the brush, waiting for a deer.