Hunt may be needed to thin Jekyll Island's overpopulated deer herd
A controlled hunt might be necessary, DNR expert say.
Georgia Times-Union

Mike Morrison
November 15, 2011

JEKYLL ISLAND - The state-owned barrier island may soon add hunters to its usual visitors of beach lovers and golfers.

Will Ricks, an assistant region supervisor for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said a survey of the island’s deer herd indicated it has grown too large and needs to be culled. That could mean a hunt to thin it.

“Jekyll Island’s deer population is too high for long-term ecological health and sustainability,” he said.

Ricks conducted a night-time spotlight survey of the island and then used statistical sampling to come up with the population. There are 712 whitetail deer on the island, he said, or one for every eight acres of land.

“That is certainly over the amount the island can sustain,” he said.

Overpopulation puts a strain on the food source, natural vegetation, and sends the deer into yards and onto golf courses in search of food.

The deer cause damage to the landscape and courses, Ricks said, but also potentially spread disease, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and salmonella. They also damage habitat for other wildlife, such as song birds and small mammals.

There’s also an aesthetic consideration, he said.

“If the population gets larger and larger and there are more emaciated deer walking around, that’s not a very pleasant sight,” he said.

Ricks suggested that the best method for culling the herd is to hold a controlled hunt on uninhabited portions of the island.

“It would have to be an intense hunt the first year to get the herd to a good level,” he said.

The hunt would be limited to bows, with no firearms allowed, he said.

Participants would be determined by lottery.

Authority member Mike Hodges raised a question about safety on what is a small island, relatively speaking, with a wide array of recreational usages in the wooded areas including hiking, bicycling, golf and bird-watching.

“It would take a lot of planning and logistics,” Ricks said, “but I do think it would be doable.”

Another option would be to hire trained sharpshooters to cull the herd, Ricks said. Hunting at night, they would make short work of halving the herd, he said. An effort would be made to donate the meat to a charitable organization.

The island’s Conservation Committee will review the options and make a recommendation to the Authority.