White-tailed deer came to Nova Scotia in the late 1800s as part of a natural expansion of their range. The emigration of deer from a well established population in New Brunswick was augmented by four or five releases of small numbers of deer brought in from New Brunswick. These releases were arranged by individuals and local hunting clubs in Halifax, Annapolis, Digby and Yarmouth counties from 1864 to 1910.
Since becoming established through Nova Scotia, the deer population has fluctuated greatly. Notable population peaks occurred in the 1950s and again in the mid 1980s. Deer populations declined following the peaks, due to the large population's pressure on habitat and the onset of more severe winters.
In the mid 1980s numbers reached 120,000 animals with hunter harvest in the vicinity of 66,000 animals. Then came the expected decline and by 1995 the population had dropped to about 42,000. Hunter harvest that year was just over 7,000 with a province-wide "buck law" in effect.
At that time there was a long standing practice to keep hunting regulations simple and the same across the province. However, because deer are not evenly distributed throughout the province, a management system that could more easily increase harvest, by area, in times of plenty, and reduce hunting pressure where and when appropriate, was introduced to better control deer numbers and provide more consistent hunting opportunity.
Until 1998, deer hunting in Nova Scotia was managed at a provincial scale with a license valid throughout the province, a bag limit of one and beginning in 1993, restricted to antlered deer only. The full protection of does and fawns, together with more frequent mild winter weather, had the desired effect of building the deer herd. In parts of the province recovery was clearly evident while in other areas, such as Cape Breton Island and northern Mainland, deer numbers remained low.
In recognition of the different deer densities in various regions of the province, in 1998 deer management zones (DMZs) were introduced. The zone management approach provided the ability to more easily provide hunting opportunity in parts of the province where deer numbers had increased sufficiently, while continuing to provide only limited (bucks only) hunting where numbers remained low. Increasing or restricting hunter harvest in various zones was achieved by issuing antlerless deer hunting permits through an application/draw process. Winners of the draw were issued an adhesive backed stamp that when applied to their base license, gave deer hunting license holders the authority to take either a doe or buck (any one deer) in the specific zone for which the stamp was issued. Zones with no antlerless permits offered, remained limited to the hunting of antlered bucks only, for all hunters.
Since 1998 deer numbers have gradually increased but still not evenly throughout the province. This was to be expected because of the differing habitat quality and perhaps more so, differing degrees of winter severity, which to deer is not so much defined by low temperatures as it is by long periods of deep snow which can cause high winter mortality in deer.
After four years, a problem was clearly developing in the south shore area from (approximately) Chester to Midway Harbour. Within about 30 km of the coast, deer numbers had increased substantially and become an increasing problem to the traveling public, farmers, gardeners and homeowners striving to maintain shrubs and flower gardens in their yards. Reducing deer numbers in this area , though still an ongoing objective, has been addressed by creating a smaller sub-zone (2A) to attract and accommodate more hunting pressure.
Similar issues of high deer numbers have since occurred in other parts of the province, and have been difficult to address with the layout and size of existing zones. For these reasons the Department of Natural Resources has revised our deer management zone boundaries and where appropriate created smaller zones, more reflective of deer habitat quality and land-use activities. Existing deer zones were too large to focus hunter effort and provide more hunting opportunity in areas where habitat productivity is high and deer have become a problem. These new zones are more reflective of eco-regions (soil types, habitat productivity and differing land use practices) and will provide greater ability to harvest more deer where they have become a nuisance, conflict with agriculture and pose a hazard to traffic, as well as to provide lower levels of harvest where there is a desire to increase deer abundance.
Because management of deer involves a high number of Nova Scotian hunters, and is of concern in many homeowners, the agricultural community and the general public, we provided the opportunity, in April 2010, for input by anyone who was interested in doing so.
Equal opportunity to all eligible hunters is the cornerstone of the program