DCR opening up deer hunting on some of its land in Southborough

Above: DCR has posted an interactive map indicating where deer hunting will be allowed on its land in town. The solid green areas will be open to archery and firearm hunting this fall. The striped areas and red areas will not be.

A commenter questioned signs at trails in town purportedly warning hikers to wear orange safety vests for hunting season. In looking into it, I discovered that the state will be allowing deer hunting (including shotgun/firearm hunting) on some land near the reservoir. In preparation, signs are being posted at trails that will be impacted.

With recent encouragement to hit trails in the boroughs, it would be pretty frustrating to show up at a trail just to learn that an orange vest is required. But, I was able to verify that none of the signs were put up by Town committees. Hunting isn’t allowed on Town owned open spaces and its trails aren’t restricted to people wearing orange safety vests. You can find the information on Town trails here.

Still, hunting season has opened in Southborough and it is allowed on private land. In case any hunters accidentally overstep their boundaries, it’s a good idea to wear bright colors when hiking in the woods this time of year.

And, it is worth noting that I was unable to confirm whose signs the commenter spotted. They could have been ones on property belonging to the Southborough Open Land Foundation, which is privately owned. (The board does allow some selective bow hunting on certain areas of Beals Preserve. Hunting is meant to be in areas away from the trails. But to be safe, they always post warning signs to for visitors to wear bright colors during hunting season.)

As for the state owned land, I was able to get more information on where hunting will and won’t be allowed – and when.

A representative from the Department of Conservation and Recreation confirmed that last Friday DCR finalized allowing hunting on some watershed lands. A special permit is required, but there is no fee.

While archery deer hunting season opened in Southborough on October 7th, a DCR representative clarified that hunting on its land won’t open until October 21st. Beyond that, it is essentially open to the end of the year with just changes in the weaponry allowed. (Scroll down for those details.*)

The DCR has posted an interactive map with a legend detailing where hunting is/isn’t allowed. (It’s targeted at hunters but should be helpful for anyone who wants to know.) DCR Watershed Ranger Andrew M. Leahy explained:

The areas that are green, but with black cross-hatching are open, but are ‘setbacks’… which means it is too close to houses or road-ways to legally discharge bows/firearms in that area.

Some residents seem to have been under the impression that hunting isn’t allowed in town. In fact, according to our bylaws, it is allowed as long as written permission is granted by the property owner. (I presume a hunting license is also needed.) 

Others have asserted that the Town prohibits the uses of firearms in town. But that appears to be a misconception as well.

A search of the Town Code doesn’t bring up any restrictions on guns or weapons. In 2013, this blog shared a warning from police when shotgun season opened. The message referenced calls they would get each year from residents concerned by hearing guns fired. 

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any restrictions. A state law prohibits discharging a firearm within 500 feet “of a dwelling or other building in use, except with the consent of the owner or legal occupant thereof”. (There are some exceptions to that rule, but hunting isn’t one of them.)

Still, while I knew that hunting was allowed on private land in town, this is the first time I’ve heard of it on government owned land. So, why is DCR allowing it this year? As some have commented, it’s about culling the deer population. 

Leahy explained:

The extremely high deer population on DWSP land is causing so much damage to the forest that it is not able to regenerate in a healthy way, & the DCR has successfully undertaken the same action to open lands to hunting in other areas of the state, over the past few years, to manage the deer population

In August, DCR issued a press release about a September 11th public meeting on the subject that the Southborough Conservation Commission apparently posted to the Town’s website. It detailed:

Due to the impacts on the forest in the Sudbury watershed from deer over-browse, the Sudbury watershed lands will be added to the lands within the watershed system that are open to hunting.

The 3,000+ acres of undeveloped land controlled by the DCR’s Division of Water Supply Protection (DWSP) surrounding the Sudbury and Foss Reservoirs and their tributaries is a valuable asset to the water supply system. The Sudbury Reservoir is an emergency water supply for the MWRA system. The Sudbury System was last used as an emergency supply in 2010 during a water main break in Weston.

Importantly, the forests in the Sudbury Watershed ensure the reliable protection of the reservoir’s water quality. Watershed management dictates that an actively growing, diverse, multi-age forest should be managed for regulating stream flow, maintaining water quality and preventing erosion. DCR staff have documented that deer browsing is a serious threat to the health and reproductive future of forests in the watershed. Due to deer browse and the persistence of invasive species, the Sudbury Forest is significantly lacking the regeneration needed to provide the future forest overstory. Currently, there is no deer management at the Sudbury Reservoir.

Therefore, DCR is planning to open a portion of the DWSP lands in the Sudbury to hunting. Hunting on these lands would require a free, online 5- year permit from the DWSP. The two areas open to hunting will be the lands immediately surrounding the Sudbury Reservoir (1400-acres) and the Crane Swamp/Walnut Hill area (650-acres).

For more details, see DCR’s dedicated page.

As for the original commenter’s question, which included whether his/her dog is also required to wear an orange vest. . . Leahy reminded that if it was DCR trails in question, dogs are prohibited.

If you have more questions about Southborough owned trails safe for walking, you might want to stop by the Trails Committee’s booth at Heritage Day.

*2019 Deer Hunting season in Southborough (with required permits and permissions):

  • Archery:  
    • On private property – Oct. 7 – Nov. 30 for the zone Southborough is in
    • On DCR land – Oct. 21- Nov. 30 
    • State regulations indicate that it continues to be allowed during the following shotgun and firearm seasons.
  • Shotgun: Dec. 2 – Dec. 14
  • Primitive Firearms: Dec. 16 – Dec 31

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4 years ago

Visiting the DCR site and zooming in on the map reveals most of Southborough is off limits. Besides – the arrow or bullet will automatically stop if it crosses into a hunting forbidden zone!

…ever get a good look at a hunting arrow tip?

Hopefully, the bullets used are hollow-point and not fully-jacketed. The latter tend to pass through objects and keep traveling.

Al Hamilton
4 years ago

Massachusetts is a “Shotgun State” meaning that you cannot use a rifle to hunt deer. A rifle bullet used to hunt deer is designed to expand (hollow point is one example) and expend its energy in the first thing it hits. A rifle bullet can travel for miles.

Shotguns use “Slugs” which are typically used a ranges of 100 yards or less. The maximum distance a slug could reasonably travel is about 300 yards. Like hunting bullets they are designed to expend their energy in the first thing they hit. Shotguns are typically mandated in areas where there human habitation is an issue.

One of the first thing that is taught in hunter education is to A) be sure of your target and B) know what is behind your target. You are not supposed to shoot if you cannot get the proper answer to both these questions.

4 years ago

If you knew anything about hunting for deer in MA, you’d know one can only use shotgun…and they don’t use those bullets, but slugs or buck shot.

4 years ago

According to that map half of 9/11 field is open to hunting. The memorial itself is in the allowable region.

Matt Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

I assume it just hadn’t been reflected. Thanks for reaching out to them. May be worth noting that the comparable Fay School field boundary appears to have a total exclusion rather than setback (the red portion). Given the status of that field as a memorial (and, you know, a field) I would hope a similar designation may be given.

4 years ago

This is great news!

4 years ago

1. Be thankful you have hunters Who are willing to cull some of the Animal population. The meat goes to good use and we’re very conscientious.
2. There will be no full metal jacket cartridges used. In this region of Massachusetts we’re only allowed to use a shotgun shell or black powder in both have a slug, not a bullet. . Maximum accurate shot is 30 to 40 yards with black powder and possibly 60 – 70 yards with a good shotgun slug
3. You’re not allowed to use a shotgun within 300 yards of a home.
4. I only use my bow and arrow in Southborough. Yes Sharp and Lethal up to 40 yards but after that they drop off dramatically.
5. Please be aware that hunters are not bad people. As I explained before not one of my friends drinks alcohol.
6. We are conservation minded and we support many organizations with our private funds. DCR is wholly funded by our hunting licenses. It is non-supported by state funds.

Hunting last from approximately the middle of October through December so I would just avoid those areas during that time. Once we clear out you’re good to go and hopefully we help to manage the lyme tick disease in Massachusetts which is crippling so many people by the turkeys and deer Who carry the disease. Personally I don’t like the insecticides in spraying. No matter what they say it’s not safe. And it gets into the food chain and has for years in disrupted our crops.

4 years ago

Wow! Thank you Beth! You did so much work on this in a short amount of time. I never got back to you with the information from the sign but you are all caught up now.

The orange sign on Ward Road was from the DCR but those signs are not at all the trail heads. I am concerned that someone who hikes from a safer trail may stray into one of these other areas, especially if they don’t read our blog. But maybe more will be done now by the authorities to make this better known and safer.

You have given everyone such valuable information Beth. I knew immediately to ask you and your readers for help and you all came through. Thank you!
Be Safe Out There!

4 years ago

To Mike: You forgot to mention that It is illegal to hunt in Massachusetts on SUNDAYS The reason being, it is a day set aside so bird watchers, dog walkers, hikers, horseback riders, etc. etc. can enjoy the great outdoors and not have to worry about running into a hunter. or vice versa.
Also deer do not cause lime or tick born diseases, any warm blooded animal and humans are hosts for ticks to get a blood meal, The white footed deer mouse is the root of the problem.

4 years ago

Absolutely great addition to my comments lll. And I believe now everyone who gets a license in Massachusetts has to take a hunter safety course.

And for birdwatcher, actually Sundays are set side for the Lord historically. Why we are not allowed to hunt on Sundays if a person chooses, I am not sure, as blue laws have all gone the way of of legal marijuana and alcohol sales on Sunday. Do you remember when stores weren’t open on Sundays?

Personally, I hunt during the week and once in a while on Saturday.

4 years ago

In response to The Arborist, if you were bird watching, dog walking, hiking, horse back riding on my property on any given day I believe that would be considered trespassing. Maybe the Sunday law makes sense for public land, but why for hunting on private land? In the last couple of years they moved bow season up to October 1st from the usual October 15th. Instead of doing that they should just allow hunting on Sundays for the duration of the season. October 1st is too early for deer hunting. I could hunt on Sunday and still make it to 6pm mass if the state is still concerned about fitting in time for the Lord on Sunday.

4 years ago

There is a mistake in this paragraph below. It is only firearms, which in this case would be a “slug” shotgun ( maximum range of 50 to 100 yards, 150 to 300 feet), are restricted within 500 feet of any home or dwelling. There is no such restriction for the use of a bow and arrow ( maximum shot for a kill is 40 yards and preferably 30 yards, so as not to wound the animal) . Although all hunters I associate with use great discretion with bows.

Ranger Andrew M. Leahy explained: “The areas that are green, but with black cross-hatching are open, but are ‘setbacks’… which means it is too close to houses or road-ways to legally discharge BOWS/firearms in that area”

Roger paquette
4 years ago

any hunter worth his salt is looking to do this as safely,easily and legally as possible, with rock hill being clear cut and developed, it shoves roughly forty hunters to re-locate from someplace we have been hunting on for upwards of 25 years. so where does it make sense to publish a map for us and then explain that it is for reference only. how are all of us whom have been in the woods and doing our homework supposed to figure this out when the dcr declare that no scouting will be allowed? Most if not any have ever ventured over there due to no hunting, so none of us know the land. I need to know or I won’t be there to help. The map needs to work better for all of us. I can’t overlay it onto another map and match grid lines and such, So there are no hard reference points to be had that I can “reference” and feel confident to say here I am. so how is this map any good? and where is the consideration of safety with this aspect I just explained and how is it going to work with forty plus new people on that land? that don’t know exactly where they should or should not be? with lousy maps. don’t get me wrong, I’m interested in new opportunities to hunt, just need to be most precise with all details to insure safety is number one priority. They really have not thought this through.

4 years ago

Hey Roger, the map does not work well on the Apple iOS platform. It does work well on a PC-based system. I’ve been walking and looking at where we can and cannot hunt as well as the setbacks for two weeks now. You must be very very careful, you have to park in certain places, it takes a little work but it’s a lot of land it’s opened up. I would just ask that maybe you back off the accelerator of criticism and maybe work with DCR to improve this for the next few years. They are very open to suggestions. Remember 100% of the conservation hunting property in Massachusetts is funded 100% by Hunter dollars, not by the state. They’ve got the Quabbin reservoir hunt down to a science and the small growth trees are coming back and the herds are being managed properly. I was so excited to see this land open up because there’s so many deer in Southboro in very few places to hunt. If there are really 40 hunters perhaps you should have a meeting to send people in in different areas. For safety sake.

4 years ago

Hey there Mike and others; Since I can’t take my desktop to the woods, I got a new phone and the maps do work better on a google pixle, I have been out there every day hiking for hours since we last traded comments, You are so correct! and careful is putting it lightly. very careful is so true. Things are tight and already many stands in my opinion are too close together and too close to the new pumping station at the end of D’Angelo dr. Same is true on the Haskell street side, stands are in too close(less than 150 feet) to the road and (500) to houses,As Mike has stated, with many new to the land, if you are reading this, maybe come in from another angle for maximum safety and bring a range finder. I am a bit surprised that there are no rangers out there checking this out pre shotgun season. I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful for a safe and prosperous season. Good luck to all. Beth, Thank you for your patience this web stuff is all very new to me.

4 years ago
Reply to  Roger

(deleted at request of commenter)

4 years ago

Sara, Short answer is no. It’s a bit long winded but you had to ask, so I feel compelled to add my two cents.
People have some right of self entitlement that obscures the reality. Then they lash out at others when they are actually causing the issues. Mike please chime in if I miss something or am too harsh. Let me start by saying, these associations I mention are wonderful folks who provide tons of open space to enjoy and I highly respect them for it.Sudbury Valley Trustees and the Northborough trail folks and others I don’t remember includes a bunch of associations that weave a tremendous web of trails through all of this land and much more and unless you search, you will not find the bench marks in the woods. I am all about open land to use, At the trail heads where there is an abundance of trail markers.Other than DCR land, owner info is not there to tell hikers who’s land you are crossing or on. Most everyone I see on the Crane Meadow side are trespassing walking their dogs on mass wild life or DCR property and leaving droppings and trash behind as they access the SVT property. Just today I spoke to a guy with a greyhound, beautiful animal, I asked him if he knew that was DCR property and he said yes. I then stated to him dog walking was prohibited. Guess what he did, said Really? and kept walking right past the sign. So, super dangerous? Enforcement is key and here and I’m sorry to say,I just have not seen any. So Why would I save these people from themselves? This is why I stated that as much as I truly need a new place to hunt and grateful to be able to participate, I will help the program move forward but still maintain that there is more to do for future hunt’s. I don’t think I’m alone on this, Hunting season for deer goes from mid October through end of January and if those who choose to be criminals wish to venture to places they have been told “NO trespassing”, who’s to stop them?(In twenty five years of hunting I have never seen a game warden or a ranger at a gate or in the woods) I have had my equipment stolen a couple times and almost been shot,Last week I was almost attacked while leaving my tree stand by loose dogs. The ladies got mad at me saying that I scared the dogs, who should not have even been there to begin with. I believe that’s called hunter harassment and it’s illegal. Was I to detain them and call the rangers? not my job. Them trespassing with their dogs ruined my hunt and wasted my day, I just have to lump it.To answer your original question, No I have not contacted anyone, sorry,not my job either, Bow season, No worries, we are only about precision shots. not trigger happy city folks who just show up for shotgun season. I hope I’m not wrong and I expect to see rangers on December 2nd and through the whole season at all these access points, checking permits and such.
So consider this only as my two cents. People do what they want and are a danger to themselves. I hope this helps you to understand what the real danger is. it’s not us.

4 years ago

Sara, Safety is my number one concern, So as a follow up to yesterday’s comment and another walk
If you feel the urge to contact someone, here’s some info. You can see part of the problem for yourself behind 360 Cedar Hill rd. Marlborough, This is where the dog walkers park every day. There is a kiosk that appears to belong to The Sudbury Valley Trust, about six feet to the right is the DCR map. On both sides of the kiosk is stated that dog walking is permitted at this site. However,the land that they own, is only accessible from this location by crossing the Aqua duct, which I think is MDC property,CSX rail road tracks and tracks are implied, no trespassing always and onto DCR land, Where dog walking is prohibited. It’s almost a quarter mile to get to the lot line for SVT. So here in lies an issue. Access into the other side of the SVT property is through mass wild life land in Westborough, and they don’t belong walking dogs there either. As we all attempt to be kind to our neighbors, the neighbors don’t seem to be doing the same. I don’t have an answer as to why they feel exempt.
Sara, All of us hunters had to apply for a permit from DCR to be there, take safety courses to get a gun license from the state and additional safety courses to get a hunting license from the state, all to be there and do one thing, hunt. Like Mike said we are good people who obey the laws and follow the rules. Who are they? Do they have to be registered and catalogued? Do they have to get a permit? does anyone check the rabies tags or dog licenses? or can they just trespass and chase me down in the woods? I will walk and talk with anyone interested to help fix this because it is broken. I’ll be there on Saturday the 23rd at 8 am. to do some more scouting. by 8:15 I’m gone into the woods until about 10 am. Sara,From this kiosk alone, you can plainly see, hunters are not the danger.

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