UNION COUNTY — If hunting is something you enjoy, the county recently authorized a free deer hunt in local parks on Mondays starting in early January. However, not just anyone can pick up a rifle and join the hunt.
The resolution approved by the freeholder board continues the annual deer removal effort as a solution to overpopulation. The actual hunt will take place on Mondays starting Jan. 6 and ending Feb. 3 and comes at no cost to hunters, who must be marksmen selected by and acting as agents of the county.
If it happens to rain on a Monday, the hunt could be moved to a Wednesday or Friday that week, so going for a walk in Lenape Park, located in Cranford, Kenilworth, Springfield and Union might be out on those days.
If Nomahegan Park is a favorite jogging place, that too has been included in this year’s hunt. Hunters will be in the parks from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m. in separate morning and evening shifts, but shooting will only occur during daylight hours, which is defined as a half hour before dawn and after sunset.
Passaic River Park in Summit, the Watchung Reservation, located in parts of Summit, Mountainside, Berkeley Heights, Springfield and Scotch Plains will also be open to hunters, along with the Ash Brook Reservation in Clark and Scotch Plains, which previously hosted hunts by a private contractor and hunting club.
At the request of Linden, the county will administer and coordinate a deer management activity in conjunction with a shared service at the city’s Hawk Rise Sanctuary.
All costs for the deer management hunts will be borne by the county and individual hunters. However, according to Union County Public Information Director Sebastian D’Elia, there will be no cost to the taxpayers of the involved municipalities. All harvested deer will be transported to a secure site within the Union County Park System, county officials explained, where agents will eviscerate the deer and complete reports on the age, sex and weight. But hunters can keep the carcasses of the deer they shoot, which is expected to be about 50 percent of the kill. Hunters can butcher their own deer or have it processed by a butcher contracted by the county, at the hunter’s expense, and at a price negotiated by the county.
It is expected that about half the venison coming from these hunts will be used to feed the needy and homeless through the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
Although many local hunters might want to participate in the month long event, D’Elia said there are tight restrictions on who will be allowed into the program.
“The hunters who participate in the program are very responsible members of the community, have been carefully selected based on their experience in hunting deer and have successfully passed a marksmanship test administered by the Union County Police,” he said, adding that “deer management is extremely important to maintaining the safety of our residents and their property.”
According to information obtained from the county, the deer population has increased significantly requiring the need to bring down the population to levels that are more in balance with the ecosystems, or 20 deer per square mile or less. Approximately 40 licensed hunters were selected to participate in the hunt, all who demonstrated proficiency in marksmanship. However, the hunt is not intended to provide sport or recreational opportunities.
According to the county, the number of hunters used and number of days of the operation are based on removing 75 deer from the Watchung Reservation, 75 deer from Lenape and Nomahegan parks, eight deer from Passaic River Park in Summit, 50 deer from Ash Brook Reservation and 15 from Hawk Rise Sanctuary in Linden.
Hunters will be required to purchase their own permit for the zones they will hunt and anyone desiring to target an antlered buck must also buy an additional special permit.