Monday, September 17, 2012

Local controlled deer hunts for control, not recreation

With a shuffling of feet and the exhaling of a few coughs, a group of mostly men, but also two women, was about to receive its required briefing.

This meeting took place Sunday afternoon. It was a prerequisite before the successful lottery winners could participate in Lake Metroparks’ archery-only deer hunt program at the agency’s 492-acre River Road Maintenance Outpost in Madison Township.

A similar meeting was held Sept. 4 for selected participants involved with the Kirtland-based Holden Arboretum’s own annual controlled deer-hunting program.

Less structured - but likewise requiring proper paperwork - are the controlled deer hunts managed by the Nature Conservancy at its Morgan Swamp property in Ashtabula County as well as the managed hunts conducted by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History at several of that institution’s Northeast Ohio reserves.

None of this takes into account, either, the controlled hunting programs undertaken in various communities. Towns like Hunting Valley Village, Waite Hills Village, Madison Village and others all annually arrange limited, controlled deer hunting.

As does the Geauga Park District with its county resident-only deer hunts.

And now Mentor, by far the county’s most populace community, has approved regulated archery-only deer hunting as a tool to help control the city’s bulging deer herd.

Not every city, institution or government body uses controlled hunting as a means to keep deer in check, of course

For the past 12 or 13 years Cleveland Metroparks has employed sharpshooters while the city of Solon has shelled out more than $780,000 to trim that city’s deer herd, utilizing a private company that specializes in such work.

Such an expense, though, scares the fiscal be jabbers out of many other communities. For these entities, allowing controlled hunting by properly permitted citizens is both effective and cost efficient.

Each of these permitting entities have its own set of regulations, too; rules that every selected hunter must observe to the letter. Failure to do so typically involves removal from the program and possibly even encountering legal difficulties.

Yet while all the agencies, organizations and communities have their own set of Ten or More Commandments, there is one thread that they all have tied in common. That being, to kill deer by hunters instead of by speeding automobiles.

Saving fauna from the vegetation-munching army of marauding deer is another vital component as well.

“You have to remember that this is not a recreational hunt; this is a deer management hunt,” said Holden Arboretum police officer Tony Petroski during one of two hunter prerequisite meetings.

Petroski is in charge of Holden’s controlled deer hunt, a project that involves the three communities in which the arboreta overlays: Kirtland Hills, Kirtland, and Chardon Township.

In the case of Kirtland and Kirtland Hills, these jurisdictions have additional requirements that are imposed on the archery-only hunters who are assigned a respective unit within Holden Arboretum.

For example, in Kirtland an assigned Holden-permitted hunter must shoot a doe before killing a buck.

Meanwhile in Kirtland Hills, the requirement to kill an antlered deer includes the proviso that the animal’s headgear have a minimum of six points, with the additional stipulation that an antlerless animal has to be taken.

Bypass this rule and permission to hunt won’t be granted the next year by the village.

The antlerless-first rule was also adopted by Lake Metroparks for this year. That stipulation was not required last year when Lake Metroparks allowed hunters to kill an antlered buck first

However, the liberal policy resulted in some lottery-selected hunters holding off for a heavy-rack buck so as not to “poison” the assigned hunting site by shooting a doe.

“Our purpose is to reduce the deer population, which is why we changed the rule,” said Tom Adair, Lake Metroparks’ natural resources manager. “Last year when we surveyed the hunters after the hunts they were overwhelmingly in support of insisting that a hunter shoot a doe first.”

The reason is biologically simple, actually.

Does produce babies, bucks don’t. Shoot a buck and the only animal out of the picture is that one. Kill a doe, on the other hand, and next spring you’re down one to maybe, three deer.

Which is why the city of Mentor is sailing the same doe-first tack on its chartered course to help reduce that community’s burgeoning deer herd.

Perhaps the entity with the most Byzantine labyrinth of deer-hunting permit requirements, Mentor has inscribed 18 pages of rules, application forms and other information that spells out how the first deer an approved archery hunter kills must be an antlerless animal.

By that definition then a male deer born this year - called a “button buck” - would be legal. Other jurisdictions, however, stipulate “doe,” and not just an antlerless animal.

Also, while most hunt-approving bodies do allow permitted hunters to sit in a tree stand/ladder stand or a ground blind, Mentor’s City Father’s wrote into the code the insistence that a participant rise above the earth by a minimum of eight feet.

This rule is intended for the safety of the neighboring property owners, not the hunters, who are not required to wear a safety harness: A stipulation insisted upon by Lake Metroparks and others.

All of which gives rise to the non-standardization of the rules when crossing from one authorizing community, group or agency to another.

Still, hunters cannot (or should not) complain. Each entity that is behind their respective hunt has taken into account its own unique situation, assembling what it believes will prove the safest and most efficient method needed to help reduce its deer herd.

With that being said, neither the entity’s officials nor a community’s residents should expect that  controlled archery hunts are an instant deer-control panacea.

They are not, as pointed out by Petroski who drew upon the several years worth of experience that Holden has seen with its hunt series. Last year the institution’s roughly 95 or so permitted hunters killed 49 deer, taking an average of 35 hours per animal to do the job.

Which wasn’t a bad outcome, Petroski said.

“If we see a few more successful years of harvest like last year, then we should be able to reach the stability in the deer herd we want,” Petroski said.

Thus, controlled hunt organizers harbor no illusions that once a respective deer herd has reached a stable platform the archery hunts can ceaser.

To the contrary, in fact, says a state wildlife biologist.

“One of the things we hear a lot from hunters is how a community will do a cull instead of allowing hunting but that’s because it’s gotten to a point where the herd has become too large,” said Geoff Westerfield, wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) in Akron.

“But once you get the numbers knocked down then hunting becomes a very good maintenance tool to help keep the herd in check and at a sustainable level.”

However, Westerfield says, each case has to be considered on its own merits, the expenses involved as well as public acceptance and desires.

“Consequently, there’s just no cookie-cutter recipe, but it is always interesting working with cities and park districts,” he said. “It’s what helps make my job fun.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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