How many deer are in Millburn-Short Hills? That's what the helicopter in the sky Sunday night was trying to figure out.
The Hot Shot helicopter was conducting a deer census as part of the township's deer culling activities, and residents started reporting seeing it starting at just before 10 p.m. on Sunday. The township is paying $11,000 for the census. Hot Shot has done the count every year Millburn has done one.
Township officials planned for the census to be complete once the annual deer hunt at the East Orange Water Company property and the Oakey Tract were complete. The hunt was completed on Saturday.
Township Administrator Tim Gordon said the company looks for a night that's relatively clear to complete the count. They may also be doing other communities at the same time.
No deer census was completed in 2009 because of the cost. The census allows township officials to determine how many deer are in the township and plan on how to proceed with its annual hunt.
For the 2009-10 deer hunt, the United Bow Hunters Association took 18 deer at the two properties, the majority coming at the East Orange Water Company property. A year ago, hunters took 50 deer from both properties. The 18 deer this year represent 494 pounds of ground venison donated to the Community Food Bank and 1,976 meals.
At a Township Committee meeting in January, a representative from the organization said they were in maintenance mode for Millburn's deer hunt.
The deer census helps township officials know how many deer to target each year.
Gordon said when the township started its deer hunt they were operating on having 20 deer per square mile, which would be 200 deer in Millburn's 10 square miles. But years later they discussed the number with fish and game officials and found it to be too high. Now they use the number of open space square miles, which is three and means the target number is 60 deer as the ideal number.
"One year we had 68," he said. "When we were close like that we didn't have a hunt."