February 11, 1935

With very little notice to Nantucket, the first deer hunt began in 1935. The Massachusetts Legislature created a law establishing the first state-sanctioned deer hunt on Nantucket when Fish and Game officials said the herd needed culling. Estimated at 300 deer, wildlife managers said the herd was in danger of starving to death. The law created a one-time provision for a February hunt to be followed by an annual December hunt.

The townspeople were outraged by the “gangs” of off-island hunters who brought chaos to the island and killed 75 deer. Opponents referred to hunters as “pseudo-sportsmen who hunt tame deer.” They complained of cars covered with dead carcasses driving through town.  The issue was debated at town meeting that year. Newspapers in Boston, Philadelphia and Vermont ran editorials calling for a repeal of the hunting law.  Summer residents wrote in to express their opposition. Local clubs held information meetings and island legislators were taken to task for allowing it to happen.

But the annual deer hunt remained and still occurs every December. In 2005 the state tried again to institute a February deer hunt to cull the herd, now estimated at 2,000 deer. Fish and Game officials said starvation was a concern, and others supported the hunt to reduce the incidence of tick-borne disease. Hunters from all over the country arrived and killed 246 deer in one week. Once again the island erupted in indignation and outrage. Although game wardens considered the February deer hunt successful, they have never suggested a repeat, citing the island’s strong opposition.

Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation among all audiences.

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