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Massachusetts deer harvest hits record high, extra venison donated to veterans’ families

The American flag. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)
February 14, 2023

It appears that hunters were spending more time in the woods last year, as wildlife officials reported that the Bay State deer harvest hit a record high in 2022.

Last year’s season set a new annual record of 15,853 harvested deer, nearly 2,500 more deer from the 2021 down year of 13,368 harvested deer — a 19% spike year-over-year.

The 2022 statewide harvest of nearly 16,000 deer was significantly up from the previous three-year average of 14,007 deer.

The deer population has been growing for many, many decades, according to MassWildlife Deer and Moose Project Leader Martin Feehan who told the Herald that he had expected 2022 would be a record harvest.

“There was a record harvest in 2020, but then there was a 9% drop a year later mostly due to people getting back to their lives after everything opened back up, so hunters were spending less time hunting,” Feehan said.

“The deer population continued to grow more due to that,” he added.

Another factor leading to the record harvest was MassWildlife making more permits available to hunters in eastern Massachusetts where deer densities are very high. Without population management through hunting, deer become overabundant — increasing risks to public safety from vehicle collisions and habitat damage.

Loosening up restrictions on permits in eastern Massachusetts counties “had a very successful impact,” Feehan said. In the south-of-Boston Zone 11, for example, the deer harvest last year jumped to 4,259 deer, a 32% surge from 3,238 deer in 2021. That zone covers Bristol and Plymouth counties.

While Feehan expected a record harvest, he did not predict the harvest would be up in every region across Massachusetts.

“It seems like hunters were spending more time in the woods last year,” Feehan said. “It was a big season across the state.”

Massachusetts has an estimated statewide deer herd of more than 150,000.

Because of the very large harvest in Bristol and Plymouth counties last year, there will likely be a decline in that region this year.

“I’d be surprised if we hit a record (this year), but it should be another strong harvest year,” Feehan said.

Last fall, MassWildlife launched its Hunters Share the Harvest Program, which involves hunters donating wild game meat like venison to residents in need. In the program’s first pilot year, generous hunters donated more than 1,500 meals of processed venison to veterans’ families through the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation.

This program creates the opportunity for hunters to continue hunting after they have filled their own freezers, while addressing food insecurity in their communities and helping Massachusetts meet its deer management goals.

MassWildlife plans to expand donation and distribution locations in the coming years.

“It was a great first year,” Feehan said. “We hope to get more processors on board this year.”

People can financially support MassWildlife’s Hunters Share the Harvest Program with a monetary donation to the Massachusetts Outdoor Heritage Foundation. Donations help cover the processing and packaging costs for donated meat. To donate, visit


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