A growing number of communities around Charlotte are turning to bow hunters to thin the herds of deer that cause thousands of vehicle collisions a year.
After decades of restoration, white-tailed deer have rebounded from a low of 10,000 statewide in 1900 to the estimated 1.1 million today. Their population growth has leveled off in many parts of the state – except in cities and suburbs, where hunting is typically banned and deer are spreading.
Lovely to look at, deer are also prolific breeders, happy devourers of home landscaping, and they figured in 90 percent of the 20,181 animal-car collisions reported in North Carolina last year.
The answer, dozens of communities have decided in recent years, is in judicious use of the bow and arrow. The silent, short-range weapons are safer within city limits than firearms but just as lethal to their targets.
The foothills town of Elkin, in 2007, became the first to adopt an urban archery season authorized by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. For this coming season, Jan. 11 to Feb. 15, 44 towns and cities will allow bow hunting for deer.
Among the latest additions is Huntersville, the only Mecklenburg County community to adopt the hunting season. Concord, Harrisburg, Indian Trail, Kannapolis, Troutman and Weddington are among the towns already enrolled.
“One of the primary drivers for us is public safety, being suburban and with lots of open areas with high concentrations of deer,” said Huntersville town manager Greg Ferguson. “We’ve had a number of deer-auto crashes, and some of those at high speeds.”
Mecklenburg County ranked 10th-highest statewide with 1,345 animal-vehicle collisions between 2010 and 2012, the N.C. Department of Transportation reports.
Unlike some towns, Huntersville already allows bow hunting during the statewide deer season, which runs from early September through December. Ferguson said the town has heard no opposition to the add-on archery season.
Troutman, on the northern end of Lake Norman and surrounded by woods, was also plagued by deer-car accidents. Three years after adding an archery season, police Chief Matthew Selves said, “I can just tell you we have less traffic accidents.”
Finding a balance
Statewide, urban bow hunters killed 82 deer earlier this year, more than half of them does. The harvest by guns and other weapons took more than 167,000.
“It’s not so much the number of deer taken from a community, it’s just reintroducing a predator – and that’s the hunter,” said Ramon Bell, past president of the 1,000-member N.C. Bowhunters Association. “That area that has become a sanctuary for deer no longer is.”
The bow hunters group offers certified, insured hunters to cull deer on private land, including gated communities and Duke University’s research forest. Only one town has signed on, Bell said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calls bowhunting to control deer populations cruel and ineffective.
“It’s not new and it doesn’t work,” said campaign specialist Ashley Byrne in New York. “Bowhunting is one of the cruelest forms of hunting.” She said hunters sometimes trail their bleeding prey for hours.
PETA argues that killing deer only leaves a void that others soon fill, and that communities wouldn’t continue to offer the hunts if they worked. The group advises nonlethal methods of deer control, such as using repellants around landscaping.
The Mecklenburg County parks department allows controlled deer hunts in the Latta Plantation, Cowans Ford and McDowell nature preserves to thin herds that over-graze native plants and can carry diseases. The hunts, in which only muzzle-loading rifles and shotguns are allowed because of their limited firing ranges, result in about 60 to 70 deer a year.
The marquee urban-archery town is Elkin, 70 miles north of Charlotte. The rural town on the Yadkin River is surrounded by rolling forests.
“We’re blessed with deer, or cursed by them, you might say, depending on when the last time you hit a deer,” said town manager Lloyd Payne.
So many night-patrolling police cars collided with the animals that the town’s insurance company urged Elkin to do something. Some residents didn’t like the idea. At a town forum, they worried about the sight of wounded deer bounding through backyards.
That hasn’t happened, Payne said, but like most towns Elkin has placed strict limits on its archery. Hunting is allowed only on private land and with the owner’s permission.
Elkin’s bow hunters took 45 deer in 2008 and have led the state for each urban archery season since then. Deer numbers appear to be down, Payne said, as are patrol car collisions.
Tim Gestwicki, chief executive of the N.C. Wildlife Federation in Charlotte, called urban archery “a sign of the times that more and more municipalities will opt in as a management tool.” The federation last month named Elkin its Municipal Conservationist of the Year.
Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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