Tom Harvey, the news and information director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, considers momentarily the disputes about the huge numbers of deer in some Texas towns.
"It's the same old thing," he says. "Half of the community wants to feed and pet the deer, half of the community wants to get rid of them."
Counterintuitive though it may seem, deer populations in many places have risen along with human populations over the past decades. Hunters and game agencies now monitor the animals for the spread of disease and maintain habitat specifically for deer. Meanwhile, Americans' migration to cities has pulled many would-be hunters from rural areas into office parks and high-rises.
Different cities use electric fences, plants unsavory to deer and some trapping and relocation to control local deer populations. But rutting deer become less wary in the fall. Thus, hunting season is also high time to watch for deer on roadways, and a popular time for cities from Ames, Iowa, to Green Bay, Wisc., to Columbus, Ohio, to encourage hunters to harvest deer.
As deer have thrived, they've gone from dietary staple to cute roadside phantoms to plain nuisance. Homeowners complain about deer droppings, ravaged vegetable patches and trampled flower beds. Reporting on the urban deer hunt in Wheeling, W.V., the Intelligencer quoted a bowhunter who summarized locals' attitude toward deer: "They call them yard rats."
Fargo, N.D., a city of almost 200,000 people, is offering its third urban hunt this year, hoping to increase hunter participation, according to police sergeant Jeff Skuza. Deer following the Red River frequently clamber up the bank into city parks on the waterfront, eventually wandering into locals' flowerbeds and pool decks, generally making a mess of things.
The city arranged with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to offer an urban hunt, with some basic rules. Juveniles aren't allowed to hunt. Hunters have to label their arrows with their name and permit number, for identification. They have to pass a proficiency test. And they have to shoot from a tree stand, so that the arrow path is more perpendicular than parallel to park grounds. "We don't want anybody jogging or biking along the path to take a stray arrow," Skuza says.
The success has been in the stealth. Commented one of the hunters in an anonymous survey: "There were a number of people walking back into the hunting area, boy on a bike, young couple, man with a dog, man with a walking stick (he actually urinated about 15 yards from my stand)."
During the two years of the program, 66 hunters have taken 29 deer. So if you notice anyone in blaze orange lugging a quartered doe out of a Fargo city park, don't be alarmed; the city is hoping to fill even more permits this season.
Deer-related motor vehicle accidents annually number in the hundreds of thousands (and account for more than half of all accidents in some rural counties), killing about 200 Americans each year. And deer ticks, carriers of Lyme disease, are so named for a reason.
"Hunting is the management tool in Pennsylvania when it comes to deer," said Jerry Feaser, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "We've worked to expand and allow as much hunting as possible, focused on antlerless deer, of course."
The big obstacles to hunting within cities are what you'd expect. State law forbids firing an arrow within 50 yards of an occupied dwelling, or a firearm within 150 yards. But transporting deer, Feaser says, is a far less effective option than hunting, out of concerns for humane transport, deer injuries and spread of disease.
Of the state's 22 wildlife management units, three — perhaps not coincidentally, the most urban — have eased some restrictions on taking multiple deer at once, with the aim of "maximizing opportunity," Feaser says.
The game commission works with any areas wanting to chip away at deer populations. Municipalities and private landholders can offer archery hunting days, and apply for unlimited antlerless deer permits. If cities and towns don't kill as many deer as they hope, they can apply for sharpshooting permits for use within city limits.
Often putting down the deer makes more sense than relocating them. "We really don't have a place where we could put them," Feaser says.
ESPNOutdoors.com will be celebrating this year's deer season with "Deer Camp" — a two-week event, covering the big issues that are important to deer hunters and examining the state of the deer nation. We'll also be breaking down and rating deer hunting in all 50 states, with an analysis of what a hunter in that state has to look forward to this year.