All this massive overpopulation of deer has completely changed the sport from what Plainsboro hunter Gary Woodhull, shown at right, remembers as a youth. Gary and his son, Danny, are sportsmen who shoot pheasant, waterfowl, and deer as the season allows. Gary begins the deer season with a bow, and, since legalized in the state eight years ago, a crossbow.

“I guess the biggest recent change,” says Woodhull, “is the emphasis on hunting does. When we were young, everyone only took buck. They wanted the big-antler trophy, and it was seen as a way of protecting the deer population.” Now with deer requiring more management than protection, the female of the species has become the prime target. In Mercer County’s deer hunting programs, a hunter must take two does before taking any antlered deer.

Another overpopulation result is the size. Trophy deer are extremely rare. Both Kubin and Woodhull remember when a large, well-antlered buck would weigh in at 200 pounds. A large doe could tip the scales at 180. Now a 125-pounder is considered a full-size adult.

Woodhull shakes his head. “It’s a whole different process now. Deer know where they are safe. They instinctively know where the preserves are. I see them out in my backyard and they know they’re safe. They’ll stroll right in and browse. But if they see you in the woods, they know you might be a hunter and they take off.”

But the joy of the sport still reigns. When the season begins, Woodhull dons his separate hunting clothes and heads into the dawn. He will hunt in private lands where he has gained permission, parks like Assunpink, or in areas set by the Montgomery Township deer management program. With practiced expertise, he will find a food or water source, and then search out that place where the deer path necks down into a tight spot. “We carry portable stands now,” says Woodhull. “Most property owners and public spots don’t want you harming their trees with nails and lumber.”

“I’ll probably take home about six deer this season,” he estimates. Some he will have butchered for his own freezer; some he will quarter and give to friends; and others he will pay the $30 butchering fee and donate to Hunters Helping The Hungry. It’s all part of giving back.

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