- Don Mulligan
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The mainstream media somehow overlooked news of government sharpshooters being summoned to the grounds outside the Camp David presidential retreat in western Maryland last month. Had the shooters been deployed to quell a terrorist attack or put down some sort of coup, the lack of coverage would have been shocking.
When it became apparent the invading horde they were sent to suppress consisted of a bunch of whitetail deer, however, no one was surprised.
Like nearly every governing body charged with managing an urban area in the United States right now, the Oval Office is having its own deer crisis. And as they enter that battle, they are likely finding that taking care of urban deer overpopulation is as complicated and controversial as passing healthcare legislation.
Though decades of research went into the decision to allow deer to be culled from the 5,770-acre Catoctin Mountain National Park, which surrounds Camp David, animal rights activists have tried to block the plan at every turn.
According to a park spokesman, the current deer density in the park is at 123 per square mile. That is roughly eight times what park officials believe is healthy for their forest ecosystem.
That doesn't matter to activists who want to stop the hunt at Camp David and every other urban hunt across the United States. They advocate, and even sometimes fund, non-lethal efforts such as contraception and relocation to thin deer herds.
Recently, wildlife biologist Daniel Licht and a coalition of researchers even advocated reestablishing wolves in parks and wild places all over the country to take care of wildlife overpopulation.
The non-lethal control methods have never worked, and no one yet has considered letting wolves go in Central Park.
The good news for hunters is that eventually even anti-hunting communities get tired of hitting deer on the highways, waking up to defoliated shrubs and having to be treated for Lyme disease, and they ask hunters to intervene.
The residents of Governors Club, a gated community near Chapel Hill, N.C., are some of the most recent city-dwellers to begrudgingly ask hunters for help.
Governors Club consists of several multi-million dollar homes surrounding a 27-hole golf course. It boasts upscale residents, a spectacular pool, and evidently, very tasty shrubs.
To combat the deer problem, the property owners association obtained a state permit to allow bowhunters to kill 65 deer.
But despite the blessing of the property owners association and many of its residents, some in Governors Club are opposed to any hunt and they are trying to stop it.
By not allowing hunters access to their lots to simply track or retrieve an arrowed deer, a few homeowners are making it pointless for hunters to hunt the development.
Most states do not allow hunters to trespass to retrieve or track even a legally shot animal.
Opportunity despite opposition
Despite the benefit to the ecosystem they provide, most urban deer hunts are marred by at least some vocal opposition. In places where the protesters are tolerable, however, urban deer seasons usually offer extended seasons, liberal tag allowances and some of the highest success rates in the deer-hunting world.
Urban deer hunters need to be well-versed in rules that are often unique to each particular hunt. They could also benefit from some training in diplomacy.
Not only did Charles Sorrells escape the wrath of the anti-hunting crowd on his most recent Indiana urban deer hunt, he showed why a little berating would have been worth it.
Almost completely enclosed by urban sprawl, Indianapolis' Fort Harrison State Park was quickly being eaten to death by its growing resident deer herd. Though there were protests, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources turned to hunters for help and scheduled the first of many urban deer reduction hunts there.
On the first day of his hunt, Sorrells arrowed a doe and a healthy, wide-racked buck. Though he had to deal with others hunting a little closer to him than he would have liked, he understood the point of the exercise was to help the park and put meat on the table.
Beyond the special park hunts across the state, Indiana also created a separate urban deer season to help alleviate deer overpopulation in and around most major cities.
Other states have created similar opportunities for urban deer hunters.
Minnesota created metro zones around heavily populated areas. Hunters in the zones are allowed to take an unlimited number of does, and are given an extra long archery season to hunt.
And while it was killed just south of a metro zone and possibly poached, a monstrous eight point buck with a 32-inch spread taken last fall near Cannon falls, Minn., illustrates the trophy potential of bucks that live almost in the shadows of sky scrapers in some cities.
"Deer in our metro zones have great trophy potential simply because they have a better opportunity to live longer than in some rural areas," said Lou Cornicelli, Big Game Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Deer live longer in urban areas, Cornicelli explained, because there is often limited hunter access to the places they live, and as a result, the hunting pressure is light.
Wisconsin's answer to the urban deer problem is called the Metropolitan Herd Control Unit Program.
Like Minnesota and Indiana, the program extended deer season for metropolitan hunters, but limited the types of weapons allowed.
It was important, they said, to keep hunting safe where people are densely populated.
Wisconsin also makes it very clear to all metropolitan hunters that none of their rules supersede any local town ordinances prohibiting firearms use.
Like Indiana, Ohio created Urban Deer Zones, but unlike Indiana, they only allow urban hunters to take antlerless deer. Ohio also lowered the fee for a deer tag in urban zones from $15 to only $6.
The next battle in the fight to thin overpopulated deer from diminishing habitat lies in the places where state and federal agencies don't have jurisdiction.
City and county owned parks like Indianapolis' Eagle Creek Park are being overrun with deer and anti-hunting managers who will eventually have to turn to hunting to solve their problem.
Even more intriguing is the Cook County, Ill., Forest Preserve District. Cook County includes Chicago and 67,000-acres of woods, parks and wild space. Much of it is overrun with deer and completely surrounded by endless urban sprawl.
As Cook County and other urban areas struggle to cope with a growing deer herd and a vocal opposition to hunting, hunters wait silently for the call to lend a helping hand.
They'll eventually get the call, but they shouldn't hold their breath waiting for a thank you.
1hEric D. Williams