It’s been five years since hunters have been given an opportunity to hunt the historic Blennerhassett Island off the shores of Parkersburg, but this year several were extended the privilege to again bring down the population of deer on the narrow piece of real estate.
"There were too many deer for the habitat,” said DNR Biologist Dick Hall. "They were trying to grow flowers and things around the mansion and something needed to be done to reduce the population."
That something was a controlled deer hunt on the island designed and executed by the DNR. The first of the hunts was staged in 2001 and followed again in 2002. Prior to that first year, deer drives on the island revealed a population of deer in excess of 500. The herd was literally eating away the island that extends two and a half miles up and down the river and stretches a half-mile across.
"We actually reduced that deer population down to somewhere around 50 to 70 deer on the island," said Hall.
Over the last five years, that population rebounded and the numbers had grown to a level considered too high for the land. A three-day hunt trimmed the population a bit. Hunters harvested 22 deer the first day, 20 the second day, and eight deer on day three.
Due to the considerably narrow hunting area, hunters are heavily restricted on what they can and cannot do. The hunt is limited to 46 hunters, all selected through an application and lottery drawing. Each hunter is required to wear blaze orange and must hunt from a tree stand or ladder stand elevated to at least eight feet from the ground. The hunter must also wear a safety harness while hunting from above the ground.
Secondly, when hunters shot a deer they were only allowed to wander within a 100-yard radius of their stand. If a wounded animal runs, hunters are required to stay put until a DNR representative arrived to help track the deer.
Hunters could use a bow, shotgun, or muzzleloader. Those choosing a firearm were sequestered on the southern end of the island, normally closed to park visitors. Hunters were required to kill an antlerless deer, with the exception of five lucky hunters who were drawn for a permit to take either sex on the day of the hunt.
It’s still not known if another hunt will be staged in 2008.
"We’ll do a deer count in the spring, and we’ll determine from that number whether the park management wants to do it again," Hall said.
Other state parks are also considering controlled hunts that will be patterned after the success of the Blennerhassett Hunt.