Archive for Sunday, January 26, 2003

Philadelphia, other cities use hunters to trim deer population

Lyme disease one of concerns

January 26, 2003


The hunter had been perched 20 feet up a carefully placed tree stand for perhaps 15 minutes, his bow on his lap, when a deer with huge antlers appeared.

"He sticks his head out, and I send an arrow right through his neck," the hunter said. "He was the biggest deer I've ever seen."

The new edition of the Pope & Young Club's official "Big Game Records of North America", due out this spring, will certify it as the fourth-largest whitetail deer ever taken by bow and arrow in Pennsylvania: 11 points on his antlers, an official score of 1682¼8, 226 pounds gutted.

And the location? Shot right in the city of Philadelphia.

Driving the paved streets of the fifth-largest city in America, you're not likely to spot many hunters. Nor hear them: Only archers, who usually shoot toward the ground from a tree stand and must be within 20 or so yards for a good shot, can legally take game within the city. But the hunters are there.

A total of 261 city deer were taken by licensed hunters on private property in the year that ended June 30. That number does not include another 512 shot by sharpshooters brought in by the Fairmount Park Commission to cull overgrown herds in the city's huge system of natural lands.

Conservation experts say sharpshooters often are the only way to reduce deer populations that have grown to more than 10 times the size what the land can support, as was the case in Philadelphia's parks. Keeping the reduced herds at healthy levels may be easier.

The idea of using volunteer hunters, rather than paid sharpshooters, to limit deer populations in densely populated cities and their immediate suburbs has been tried in various places around the country over the past decade.

Among them, said Jay McAninch, president of the Vienna, Va.-based Bowhunting Preservation Alliance, have been the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul; Princeton Township, N.J.; Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Westchester County, N.Y., and the Detroit, Dearborn and Grand Rapids areas of Michigan.

Strong advocate

McAninch, who is a strong advocate of these efforts, said he is noticing the emergence of a new generation of urban shooters who have done their "pleasure hunting" elsewhere and now are more interested in helping to manage deer populations.

"They look at it as a public service," he said.

Pat Ford, a Philadelphia resident and longtime hunter, started bow-hunting in the city a decade ago. "I had little ones at the time," said Ford, 45. "I would go after work and sometimes before."

In just 15 or 20 minutes, he could be dressed in camouflage, up a tree and ready.

He took eight deer within the city during the season that ended Jan. 11 (and another four in the nearby suburbs). Two will supply his family with meat for a year. Most of the rest goes to friends and relatives.

Kris Soffa and her husband bought their contemporary house on two bucolic acres surrounded by the nature center 18 years ago. She describes herself as an environmentalist and a community organizer.

"Hunters always asked, they phoned, they wrote letters, they put things on my windshield they begged and pleaded. I thought hunting was horrible," she said.

Lyme disease

As the deer increased, her entire family came down with Lyme disease. She installed a 12-foot-high, 800-foot-long fence with four gates, and got three cats to eat the mice that carry lyme ticks, and guinea fowl to eat the ticks.

The turning point for Soffa came about 12 years ago, when her toddler son developed symptoms of Lyme, complete with a telltale bull's-eye rash. The doctor insisted it wasn't; she demanded and got antibiotics. Six months later, it turned out the lab had sent the wrong letter.

A man who did work on her property had asked to hunt before, and now she said yes.

Soffa's hunter -- she allows only one -- regularly scoots up an oak tree in the woods during the 10 staggered weeks of archery season. Between Soffa and a half-dozen other city property owners, the hunter gets eight or 10 whitetail a year.

Donated venison

In just the last two years, U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters brought in by Philadelphia's Fairmount Park system have killed nearly 1,000 deer, donating (by law) 151¼2 tons of venison to local food banks and homeless shelters.

Most metropolitan areas don't have Philadelphia's vast expanses of woodland that spill excess deer over to residents' lawns and gardens.

States such as Texas, with the most hunters in the nation, allow municipalities, not the state, to decide.

Both Dallas and Houston ban hunting, although San Antonio permits it. Nor is hunting permitted in Detroit or Salt Lake City, both in major game states.

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