Deer hunters quietly active in city


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Drizzt
January 15, 2003, 06:09 PM
Deer hunters quietly active in city

Armed only with bows and arrows, they help Philadelphia and residents control the herd. They get venison in return.

By Don Sapatkin
Inquirer Staff Writer

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 watched, noiselessly, as the buck violently fought and slammed another big male, and then, amid raucous grunting, chased a doe into a thicket of rose bushes.

Moments later, he reappeared.

"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 168 2/8, 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: Philadelphia is the only county in the state in which guns cannot be used to shoot game. But the hunters are there.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission sold tags to kill 600 antlerless deer within the city during the year that ended June 30 (antlered bucks are tracked differently). A total of 261 deer were taken by licensed hunters. The most recent season ended Saturday; figures are not yet available.

Peppered around Chestnut Hill, Upper Roxborough, Mount Airy, near Pennypack Park, and parts of southwestern Philadelphia are residents who give hunters permission to shoot on their properties. There aren't many. "The people don't want to allow it because, you know, you're killing deer," said Jerry Czech, a state wildlife conservation officer.

Hunters who persevere say they get satisfaction from their role in state efforts to manage destructively large deer herds. They can also hunt near home.

Pat Ford, a city resident and longtime hunter, started bow-hunting in Philadelphia 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 has taken eight deer in the city this season. Two will supply his family with meat for a year. Most of the rest goes to friends and relatives.

Several years ago, Ford, who works in construction, brought together a group of guys who wanted to help cull local herds on private properties around Chestnut Hill and Andorra. In 2000, his Chestnut Archers got an invitation from the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough.

"The deer have absolutely decimated 500 acres of green space," said Dennis Burton, director of land restoration at the refuge. Just within the last few years, three subdivisions went up on adjacent browsing land, and a golf course did major development, forcing more deer to come in search of food.

The archers - who must pass Burton's marksman tests and aim down toward the ground from tree stands even though they are not allowed to hunt while the center is open - seem to be making a difference: "There's some tulip regeneration. Some oak and hickory starting to get a foothold."

Kris Soffa and her husband bought their contemporary house on two bucolic acres surrounded by the Schuylkill 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."

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 through winter, 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 her and a half-dozen other property owners, he gets eight or 10 whitetail a year.

After years of tracking bear, moose and caribou across the continent, this hunter finds his challenge in the city. Instead of outthinking deer on the move, he must position a tree stand on a small parcel; if the deer wanders onto a neighbor's property he will have to coax it back or lose it. A good shot with a bow, unlike a rifle, must be within 20 yards.

And with less browsing land accessible to hunters, bucks in and around the city survive longer and grow bigger. When Soffa's hunter enters the record book this spring with his 11-pointer, taken near the Philadelphia Cricket Club on Nov. 2, 2000, it will be his second mention. The first also was shot in Chestnut Hill. He won't say exactly where. It's the same reason he won't agree to have his name in the paper.

"You've got to stay out of sight, out of mind," he said.

Animal-rights activists might take bolt cutters to his tree stands, as he said they already have. Worse, customers might be upset to learn that he hunts. Many people who don't shoot animals are disgusted that others do.

Barbara Riebman, a longtime animal-rights activist from Bryn Mawr, believes that all hunting is unethical. She also argues that shooting a bow and arrow in the city is inherently unsafe and that the Pennsylvania Game Commission's stated intent to manage an overgrown deer population is nonsense.

"Hunters," she said, "have manipulated the deer population to increase... hunting opportunities."

The commission changed the rules for hunting in Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties more than 30 years ago.

"There is a conflict with deer and people," said Brett Wallingford, a commission biologist. "It is magnified in these urban counties because there are more people."

Guns with longer ranges were prohibited, and only archers were permitted in Philadelphia. There hasn't been an injury from a hunting accident in the city since 1982, according to commission records.

Over time, rules in the city and suburbs were updated to try to manage the skyrocketing deer herds. Despite the experience of property owners such as Kris Soffa and the Schuylkill Center, Wallingford says these changes have done little.

Sharpshooters are more efficient. In just the last two years, U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters brought in by Fairmount Park have killed nearly 1,000 deer, donating 151/2 tons of venison to local food banks and homeless shelters. The goal, said Barry Bessler, chief of staff for the park commission, is to reduce the population in the Wissahickon Valley and Pennypack Park to roughly 30 deer apiece - what he considers a healthy number to allow vegetation to regenerate.

The park today will announce an immediate renewal of an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. daily curfew in both areas through the end of March "to ensure public safety as the Commission conducts deer control activities."

Bessler said there is evidence that the program is working. Collisions of cars and deer appear to be down as well. In 1999, 238 deer-related auto accidents were recorded throughout the city by the state game commission. In 2001, there were 97 reported collisions.

The idea of using hunters, rather than paid sharpshooters, to cull deer has been tried over the last decade around the country, including a highly publicized attempt in Princeton Township.

Still, few cities allow it. That's partly because few metropolitan areas other than Philadelphia have vast expanses of woodland that spill excess deer over to nearby lawns and gardens. It's also because states such as Texas, with the most hunters in the nation (Pennsylvania is second), allow municipalities, not the state, to decide. Both Dallas and Houston ban hunting, although San Antonio permits it.

There is hunting in Pittsburgh, where shotguns and muzzle-loaders (but not rifles) are used for turkey, deer, small game, and fur-bearing animals.

As human development encroaches on more and more animal habitat nationwide, the pressure on government to act is likely to increase.

"What we see a lot of are mountain lions and bears moving into urban areas," said Dale Lashnits, chief of public affairs for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Denver. "[Lion] kittens out trying to establish their own territory, bears foraging for food. It's very interesting, it's very scary, it's very difficult to manage."

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/local/4932944.htm

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Ol' Badger
January 15, 2003, 07:29 PM
I work at Dulles airport and we can hunt on it. Its weird to see a map with all the homes and buildings around this large area of green at the airport. But we call it Animal Management.

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