Shooting from an elevated position, firing "frangible" bullets, and using an infrared camera—these are just a few of the safety precautions used to protect the public during a deer kill operation in Lower Merion, according to officials from the township and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, which conducts the annual hunts.
The township’s most recent deer cullng, which took place Nov. 14 to 19, resulted in a total of 42 deer being killed, and since 25 of those deer were females, the culling potentially reduced the future deer population by 50 fawns, said Lower Merion Police Superintendent Michael McGrath.
Killing and prevention
“Typically, each doe has two fawns every spring,” McGrath said. “So if you eliminate a doe, you eliminate the potential for two fawns in the coming year.”
The township is broken up into seven areas for the culling, and deer were taken from every area, McGrath said.
Of the 42 deer, McGrath said:
- 17 were removed from Area 1, which is Gladwyne.
- 2 were culled from Area 2, which is Villanova.
- 2 were eliminated from Area 3, which is Bryn Mawr.
- 4 were killed in Area 4, which is Penn Wynne.
- 8 were removed from Area 5, which is Gladwyne and Haverford.
- 7 were eliminated from Area 6, which is Bala Cynwyd and Belmont Hills.
- 2 were culled from Area 7, which is primarily Wynnewood, as well as Penn Valley.
The culling takes place on public property, such as park land; on pieces of private property of a minimum of five acres in size; or a combination of public and private land, McGrath said.
In the case of private land, the USDA Wildlife Services Unit and the Lower Merion Police Department first evaluate the property with the property owners to see where residences are located and what the geography of the land is like, in order to make sure it is a safe area to conduct the culling, McGrath said.
Prior written permission is obtained from private property owners to allow culling on their land, McGrath said.
Citizens residing in the vicinity of the culling operations received a flier from the Lower Merion Police Department informing them in advance of the days and times when the culling would occur, and providing them with a phone number to call and a web page to refer to, in case they had any questions.
Several precautions are taken in order to protect the public during the culling.
The deer are killed overnight between 9 p.m. and dawn, because this is when the deer are out and when it is safest for residents, McGrath said.
“People are in their homes, there’s less traffic on the roads, so it’s safer for it to take place,” McGrath said.
Lower Merion uses a mobile unit team of four people for the culling, said Gino D’Angelo, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Unit and the project leader for Lower Merion Township.
The team comprises two USDA Wildlife Services employees who are wildlife professionals and qualified marksmen, and two members of the Lower Merion Police Department, the animal warden and a police officer, D’Angelo and McGrath said.
One member of the USDA acts as the sharpshooter, using a sound-suppressed, .243 caliber Winchester rifle, while the other serves as the spotter, utilizing an infrared camera, D’Angelo said.
Deer “show up as white-hot in the infrared camera” but can be differentiated from humans and other animals because the infrared camera enables the spotter to view a deer, a person or other animals in great detail through the camera, D’Angelo said.
“The infrared really increases our ability to make that a safe shot,” D’Angelo said.
Frangible bullets are used, meaning the bullets fragment upon impact so that the projectiles are unlikely to exit the deer, D’Angelo said. This increases safety in urban areas, he said.
The marksman shoots from an elevated position, so that if a bullet does pass through an animal it will enter the ground, D’Angelo said.
This elevated position is accomplished by positioning the sharpshooter high up in the vehicle; positioning bait so that the deer is positioned for a safe shot; positioning the deer culling team’s outfitted pickup truck; and using the terrain to get above the animal, D’Angelo said.
The Wildlife Services sharpshooter and spotter stand in the bed of the pickup truck and use the roof of the truck as the rest for the gun, which allows for the elevated position of the sharpshooter, D’Angelo said. The members of the police department are in the cab of the truck, he said.
Whole kernel corn is used as bait to position the deer, D’Angelo said.
Looking back, looking ahead
This is the third year that the township has conducted a deer culling, McGrath said.
A total of 288 deer were eliminated and 7,750 pounds of venison were donated to a local food bank from the culls conducted over the course of 26 days in 2009, 2010 and 2011, costing the township a total of $66,158, according to police statistics provided by McGrath.
The most recent cull (which was the shortest and least costly of the three) lasted five days, cost the township $15,000 and yielded 950 pounds of venison, police statistics show.
After Dec. 31, the Lower Merion Police Department will analyze traffic statistics for 2011 and have the data to determine how many vehicular accidents involved deer and how many did not, McGrath said.
Police statistics from the past five years show that the number of crashes involving deer struck by autos fell and then rose. McGrath said there were 70 deer hit by cars in 2006, 57 in 2007, 52 in 2008, 66 in 2009 and 65 in 2010.
When asked for an explanation about the why the number of crashes had gone down and up, D’Angelo said although the USDA is operating deer culls in the township, they are not operating everywhere in the township where deer are found because permission is required from private property owners.
“In certain areas, we don’t have access,” D’Angelo said. “In the future, we hope to work with Lower Merion Township to improve getting in areas where accidents are still occurring.”
The township’s deer management plan, which was completed in 2009, will be updated in the coming year and deer collisions are only one aspect of the management plan, D’Angelo said.
Deer contribute to the risk of people contracting Lyme disease and cause damage to property, D’Angelo said.
“In Lower Merion, they do quite a bit of damage to fencing,” D’Angelo said.
Deer can also end up in buildings, which has happened twice in the township in the past year, with one deer getting into a church and another going inside a pharmacy, D’Angelo said.
The township’s updated deer management plan, or impact study, will look at all of these issues, and analyze motor vehicle collisions involving deer in more detail, D’Angelo said.