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Sunday, February 10, 2013
Five months ago I couldn’t wait to get in this spot.
On this evening, I couldn’t wait to get out.
This spot was 15 feet up an oak tree, in my Summit climbing stand.
My crossbow rested in my lap, a broadhead-tipped arrow at the ready.
Facing into a stout north wind I was freezing my you-know-what off. I didn’t really want to be here, but I felt obligated.
Deer hunting in February is a new thing for me this year, the result of Roanoke County now being included in the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Urban Archery program.
A number of localities in Western Virginia have been participating in the program, but the extent of my participation was a couple of early-season hunts with buddies in the New River Valley.
When a new DGIF regulation allowed population-dense counties — in addition to cities and towns — to opt in to the program, officials in Roanoke County smartly opted in.
Roanoke County is among those where game officials have been trying just about every tool in their toolbox to try to manage the whitetail herd.
For example, hunters can take antlerless deer during the entirety of the regular deer seasons, which open the first Saturday in October for archery hunters and run through the final day of late muzzleloader season on the first Saturday in January.
Furthermore, hunters aren’t allowed to shoot a second buck without first tagging at least one doe.
Even with that expansive hunting season and earn-a-buck rule, Roanoke County’s deer population remained robust — too robust in the eyes of many residents who end up dodging deer during their drives on county roads and who have to resort to expensive and often futile tactics to protect their landscaping and gardens.
In the words of wildlife biologists, whitetails had exceeded their cultural carrying capacity.
There is still enough food and cover, or biological carrying capacity, to support more deer. But humans, in general, don’t want more.
The urban archery program provides an additional four months of hunting, one prior to the regular season and three after it closes.
Only antlerless deer are fair game. Though a few of those slick-headed deer are immature bucks or bucks that have shed their antlers, most are females. Reducing numbers of does is the key to managing deer herd growth.
Localities can set their own rules, such as the minimum size of huntable parcels, and required distances archers must stay from buildings and roads.
So it’s not really an urban hunting situation, but more of a suburban one. That makes sense because suburbia is where whitetails tend to cause the most problems.
In these suburban areas, urban archery complements other hunting seasons. In many areas, because of the suburban landscape, only archery hunting is allowed for safety reasons.
Roanoke County is unique because hunters can use firearms during the designated seasons.
In all urban archery areas, the deer kill during designated urban archery seasons is on the low side.
It’s better than nothing, but it could be even better.
It should be better.
That’s why a buddy and I headed out to a spot in Roanoke County for a couple hours of hunting on the chilly, windy day.
Participating in urban archery seasons is not just an opportunity. It’s a responsibility.
In all cases, officials from the city, county or town had to approve the locality’s participation in the program.
In some cases they faced opposition from citizens who, because they are fundamentally opposed to hunting, oppose any expansion of hunting opportunities. (Some argue that urban archery hunting is unsafe, but the reality is the only risk is to the hunters themselves if they don’t exercise treestand safety.)
Those pro-urban archery officials stood their ground not because they believe that hunters with bows and crossbows are the answer to dealing with booming whitetail herds, but because they hope that extra season can be part of the solution.
While more than 30 localities participate, there are many more areas that could benefit from an urban archery season.
More than a decade ago a special citizens committee recommended that Roanoke City opt into the urban archery season, a recommendation that has not been followed.
Apparently Roanoke officials don’t believe the benefits are worth the headaches. It’s a worthy concern.
If urban archery hunters are killing just a few deer in areas where it is allowed, why risk drawing the ire of anti-hunters when the benefit is minimal?
The city has to pay professional sharpshooters already, so what’s the harm in paying the pros to kill a few more deer?
But if urban archers can make a real impact in areas where they hunt — and they do better in some areas than in others — that might spur other localities to give the season a try.
Late-season urban hunting isn’t easy. It can be uncomfortably cold, and deer tend to be spooky.
On that recent hunt, for example, I didn’t see a deer. That was frustrating.
But I’ll keep going back, not just because I’d like another deer in the freezer, but because if I don’t — if we don’t — we might eventually lose the opportunity altogether.
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