Thursday, September 22, 2011

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge

Hunting is allowed in our neighboring wildlife refuge. Details first – the Massachusetts deer hunting season runs from mid-October to the end of December, is limited to bows, shotguns and muzzle-loading rifles, and never on Sundays. These are all short-range weapons compared to hunting rifles, hence lowering the risk of accidental shootings. The application deadline was back in July. The Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge also has hunting seasons for turkeys, grouse, woodcock, rabbits and squirrels. Deer hunters must wear orange. During hunting season, so should you.

Origins of the Refuge date back to the 1942 seizure of land spanning Maynard, Sudbury, Hudson and Stow by federal eminent domain. Landowners were given about ten days to pack up and leave, and by their own accounts received around ten cents on the dollar of what the land was actually worth.

Blueprint of munitions bunker [click to enlarge]
One of the most interesting features of the Refuge is the World War II era ammunition bunkers. The site was chosen to be convenient to railroad shipping to the Boston Navy Yard, which was active over the years1801-1974 and currently home to the USS Constitution, yet far enough inland so that a German battleship could not shell the area. Each of the 50 bunkers, officially referred to as “igloos,” has inside dimensions of 81x26x12 feet, with a curved roof. Sides and roofs were mounded with dirt for extra protection and disguise. Today, from all but the door end, these bunkers resemble small hills, complete with a forest of trees growing on top. Bunker #303 is sometimes open for tours. 

After WWII this site, referred to as the Fort Devens-Sudbury Training Annex, served as a troop training ground, ordinance testing and laboratory disposal area for Natick Labs, i.e., the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center. A 1980s assessment led to this being categorized as an EPA “Superfund” clean-up site in 1990, as the site was contaminated with arsenic, pesticides and other chemicals. Extensive Army clean-up efforts continued for years, ending with the site being turned over to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2000, to turn into a wildlife refuge.        

Tour of Bunker #303
The Refuge covers 3.5 square miles. The prime purpose is to manage land for migratory bird conservation. A website ( maintained by Friends of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge has maps, photos, activities, and a link to the government’s Refuge website. There is a wonderfully informative, child-friendly, Visitor Center at 680 Hudson Road, Sudbury. For people who just want to park and roam, the north parking lot is accessed from White Pond Road, reachable from Route 117 in Stow. Within the Refuge there are 15 miles of old roads and new walking trails, with the old roads, which are in poor repair, open to bicycles. No dogs allowed anywhere in the Refuge, no other pets, no horses, no fires, no overnight camping, no ATVs, no dirt bikes, no snowmobiles. Use of the Refuge is currently free, but that is likely to change. 

Back to deer hunting – this is an example of a need to manage a native species acting like an invasive species. Unrestricted hunting through the 1800s resulted in the New England extinction of wolves and mountain lions, and near-extinction of whitetail deer. But what with restrictions on hunting and return of farmland to wilderness, the state’s deer population is roughly 100,000 or 10 per square mile, and much higher in favorable terrain. Without population management of some sort, deer destroy ecological balance. ARNWR allows deer hunting so it will be a refuge for all wildlife, not just deer.
Trees growing on top of bunker, next to roof vent

One gray wolf made his way from Canada to western Massachusetts in 2007. Unfortunately he took up sheep killing rather than deer hunting, and was shot. A mountain lion walked from South Dakota to Connecticut, where he was then hit by a car in 2011. If more apex predators emigrate from the west then the Refuge will become a more interesting place to walk, as these animals hunt year round, including Sundays.     


  1. Bunkers are definitely something you don't see on luxury safari holidays everyday. If anything, it shows how something man-made can still be made to fit in with nature - if we allow it to.

  2. I would never consider Maynard, MA as the site for a luxury safari holiday. But I have added a new picture to show how 65 years of nature can overtake a man-made structure.

  3. he closing date to this hunting season is still undetermined because of the method and particular location's regulation. However, the season usually ends sometime in November, making October the perfect month for black bear hunting. Go to website

  4. Starting 2015, bear hunting in MA was expanded to east of Route 495, so now the entire state. Estimates for the population are 4,000 to 5,000 bears in MA. No info yet on numbers shot in 2016.