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The Quiet Kill
WhiteTail Solutions thins the herd in the suburbs without waking up the neighborhood
Thursday, December 25, 2008
By Nick Keppler
Four deer were lazily hanging out in Joe Tucker's yard, right along his driveway. They did not
gallop away when I pulled in. "That's part of the problem," Tucker's buddy Dan Beyer told me
later. "They've lost their fear of man as a predator."
This is why WhiteTail Solutions exists. The company considers its employees "deer
management consultants," and use bows and arrows to hunt their prey.
And this is why the company is most active in the affluent suburbs, areas the state Department
of Environmental Protection has deemed troublesome for their abundance of deer and lack of
hunters. Ninety-nine percent of their hunts, says Tucker, who co-owns the company with his
brother Chris and Beyer, occur in Fairfield County.
Man isn't much of a predator here. Deer hunting "is not a way of life" along the Gold Coast, says
Patricia Sesto, chair of the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance and director of
Environmental Affairs for the Town of Wilton. "People haven't grown up with it and aren't
educated about it. ... It's just not our pastime."
Land here has been developed in a way — golf courses and wetlands separating office parks
— that leaves open space where deer can eat well and breed plentifully, says Howard Kilpatrick,
the DEP's biologist in charge of deer management.
When the deer population increases, so do Lyme disease, car collisions and ecological
The number of deer per square mile reaches 60 in some parts of Connecticut, says Kilpatrick.
While he says it's difficult to say how many are "too many" for this type of terrain, his educated
guess is closer to 10 per square mile.
So, there's WhiteTail Solutions, a company headed by 40-year-old commercial well-driller Joe
Tucker, who runs WhiteTail Solutions from his Oxford home.
And "company" may be the wrong word for it. Though it's a registered LLC, WhiteTail Solutions
is more like 14 guys who love to hunt, who were raised hunting, who "harvest" deer in towns
where guys spend more time bagging Wall Street bucks than hoofed ones.
They do not make a profit for most of their jaunts.: They love to hunt. Most of their hunts are
allowed by private-property owners, who were warned by the town and the DEP about deer
overpopulation. Sometimes town governments call them. Sometimes neighbors call.
The hunters are amiable, bearded, middle-aged men who choose their words carefully. They
live up in places like Watertown, Terryville and Beacon Falls, but will gladly handle the problem
of deer overpopulation in suburbs like New Canaan, Ridgefield and Wilton.
You don't hear them. You rarely see them. Although they are all quick with a rifle, they use bows
and arrows when they hunt in the wealthy suburbs because a 500-foot range is required for rifle-
And archery is efficient. Beyer speaks happily about fiberglass arrows and state-of-the-art bows
that can launch an arrow at speeds of 300 feet per second.
But they also want to be sensitive to the people whose backyards they're hunting, says Tucker.
Arrows are "quiet and travel the distance you'd need if you're hunting the number of acres we
need," says Tucker. Guns, he says, have a nasty cultural connotation, adding that, "Nobody ever
died from an arrow on CSI: Miami."
I went on a small hunt with Beyer and Tucker on a piece of privately owned property in Ridgefield
one bright Saturday morning. We traveled down one of Ridgefield's main arteries, made two
turns, parked on the side of a residential yard and walked not over 100 feet into the woods.
There sat a battery-powered, time-set feeder that spread corn onto the ground in regular
intervals. Above us was a tree stand — a sturdy, one-person platform attached to a tree for an
aerial view. This is how you hunt deer in the suburbs.
About five years ago, the group started in Ridgefield, the northernmost town on the Gold Coast.
The posh town center is often compared to that goldest town on the Gold Coast, New Canaan.
Ridgefield also sits on the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, is sparsely populated (around
700 people per square mile) and, says First Selectman Rudy Marconi, is "ranked at number-
one, or close to the top of some surveys of deer-auto accidents."
In 2004, the town decided to form a "deer committee" to address the problem.
"The DEP had told us about the deer overpopulation," says Marconi, "and it was pretty obvious
from looking around that we had a lot. We started to trace it to other problems in town." Including
The WhiteTail guys had been hunting in Ridgefield for years — and now the town government
and residents have come to rely on them. They've since branched out into Wilton, Danbury,
Seymour, Newtown, New Canaan, Redding, and, more recently, Brookfield.
After I joined the WhiteTail men in the field, Beyer reminded me to check for ticks when I got
home. They're careful. They are non-confrontational. They won't hunt in a neighborhood if
another hunter is already there.
And they're charitable. They've created a "Hunt to Feed" program that's gathered 1,500 pounds
of meat this year, along with other hunters, and donated it to the Connecticut Food Bank. Before
that, they also provided meat to be served at fundraisers for Toys for Tots, the American Legion
and other nonprofits.
The entirety of Fairfield County makes up Zone 11 of the DEP's Deer Management Zones. It and
Zone 12, which stretches the rest of the coast from Milford to Stonington, are the problem zones
of the 12 deer zones the DEP carves the state into.
Hunter surveys and aerial expeditions have detected the popularly given figure of 60 deer per
square mile. So the DEP adopted a few "liberalizations" of hunting regulations to lower the deer
count, says Dale May, director of the DEP's Wildlife Division.
The hunting season in most of the state runs Sept. 15 to Dec. 31, but extends until Jan. 31 in
Zones 11 and 12. In these areas, you can use bait (like corn) and can harvest an unlimited
number of antlerless deer — or does and fawns — which are more important to increasing or
maintaining a herd's number than a buck. You can't do any of this in the other 10 zones, which,
except for Zone 3 (Hartford and the surrounding area), are largely rural. The DEP is also
considering a "special crossbow season" for the two trouble zones.
"Deer have unlimited capacity to breed in these zones," says May. "They have no predators.
Bobcats and coyotes are rare, and most of them could not take down a full-grown deer. They
may be able to get away with an injured one or a fawn, but if they can get a woodchuck or a
possum or a housecat, they won't even try for the deer. ... The other predators, such as wolves
and bears, are gone, and aren't coming back."
Man is deer's biggest predator in this terrain, says May, and has been since the days of the
Native Americans. But in the days of the financial sector commuter, they seem to have stopped.
Take Wilton, for example, a town where income averages $141,000 and breadwinners mostly
commute to Stamford or New York. Wilton has 71 square miles of land and a comfortable
density of 654 people per square mile. There are, according to Sesto, nearly 70 deer per square
Lots of deer means auto wrecks. The DEP found more roadkill per square mile in Fairfield
County, which includes the Merritt Parkway, routes 7 and 8 and other brisk-but-scenic roadways,
than any other part of the state.
The precise number: 1.32 dead deer per square mile, compared to the state average of 0.52.
There's also Lyme disease, one of many bacterial diseases spread by tick-carrying animals,
like deer. Since 1996, 29,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported to the DEP.
Yet, Lyme is a relatively new disease. It was discovered in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, which
sits toward the end of Zone 11.
Reliable diagnostics either haven't been developed or haven't been implemented, says Maggie
Shaw, of the Newtown Lyme Disease Task Force. Shaw's entire family has been fighting Lyme
since 1992, and it's caused years of fatigue, illness and developmental damage for herself, her
husband and their three children.
The point is: Lyme is new, mysterious, devastating and associated with deer.
So what are the solutions to these problems?
Controlled hunts, the DEP says. Devil's Den Nature Conservatory in Weston has been closed to
the public on weekdays this fall to allow hunters to shoot deer. Huntington State Park in
Redding was opened for bow-hunting only, provided hunters stay away from one heavily people-
populated area. Sesto has been orchestrating controlled hunts in Wilton around the Rock Lake
and City Lake reservoirs over the last six years. She thinks the hunts will harvest 80 to 100 deer
What's the solution when you don't have large state parks or protected reservoirs to provide a
Or at least that's what the Selectmen Board of Brookfield, another 60-deer-per-square-mile town
in Upper Fairfield County, decided. The town hired WhiteTail hunters to patrol three town-owned
pieces of land.
"They are there in their tree stands, shooting razor-sharp arrows directly down," says First
Selectman Robert Silvaggi, who adds that the town isn't paying the hunters. "The arrows travel
only a few feet. They go right through the deer, and there's little chance of anyone getting hurt."
It wasn't accepted by the entire town. Silvaggi says that a town meeting last October discussing
the hunt this fall revealed more people support it than are against it, but "you are always going to
have some people who want to save Bambi."
While Joe Tucker laments the decline of hunting in Connecticut, Priscilla Feral celebrates it.
"What happens when all these people die out?" asks the president of Darien-based Friends of
Animals. "Haven't their children discovered video games and better things to do than mutilate a
"Unequivocally opposed to hunting," Friends of Animals makes its presence known at
municipal meetings where controlled hunts are discussed. They picketed Wilton's first
WhiteTail hunt and were involved in a battle over Bluff Point State Park in Groton, — a patch of
land trapped between a busy Route 1 and the Long Island Sound — where the DEP decides
each year exactly how many deer will be killed there.
The larger problem, says Feral, are people.
"Deer don't cause global warming, deer don't pollute rivers. Compared to that, a little damage to
some shrubbery is nothing."
She adds, "We've overpopulated and mismanaged this planet and we can't get indignant when
some deer come into 'our' area."
As for the deer-to-vehicle collisions, "You'll notice they go up during hunting season when deer
are running more from hunters," she says.
(Note: Hunting season does coincide with mating season, when deer activity is already greater.)
As for Lyme disease? "It seems ridiculous to me that you are going to get rid of this disease by
eliminating one mammal."
Tucker wants nothing to do with people like Feral — no arguments, no debates, no encounters.
WhiteTail isn't in the business of changing minds, he says.
"There are some people you are never going to convince and I'm OK with that," he says. "I'm a
very choice kind of guy. If you don't want hunters around you or your property, I respect that. I only
want that you respect the rights of the owners who are OK with that."
When asked if he's ever had any encounters with the animal-rights crowd, Tucker, as always, is
careful with his words, but his eventual answer is no.
"I try to avoid that confrontation before it even happens," he says. "It's a no-win sort of thing."
He does make a brief comment about the middle-of-the-road folks in suburbia. "You don't need
Bambi. You don't need a dead deer to make people uncomfortable," he says. "It's the
camouflage and the trucks and the equipment. I get a lot of [landowners] who were
uncomfortable having us come down at first, and then they become OK with it and we wave to
each other and sometimes they tell me [about their initial indecision]: 'I just wasn't used to it.'" ¦