KANSAS CITY — When Joe Cascone started deer hunting, he thought nothing of driving an hour or two to get out of Kansas City.
Today, he stays in the big city when he wants to hunt.
Through a program managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, he bow hunts an island of timber within the city limits, not far from the traffic, subdivisions and activity of urban life.
"I used to be one of those hunters who thought you had to get way out of the city to have a good chance at a deer," said Cascone, 41, of Kansas City. "I grew up in the inner city, and we never used to see deer.
"But now we see them all the time in greenways and little pockets of timber. It doesn't take much to hold them.
"I've taken nice bucks within 20 minutes of my house, hunting with my bow. It's unbelievable."
Cascone is part of a carefully monitored program devised by the city and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
In response to growing deer populations in the city and increased deer-vehicle accidents, the City Council in 2003 passed an ordinance allowing bow hunting in the city under the program.
Private land must be at least five acres to qualify and it must be isolated from houses, roads, and other structures for safety purposes.
Landowners submit requests to the Missouri Department of Conservation, which then has wildlife biologists inspect the property to make sure it meets requirements.
Safety is a priority, and so far there have been no problems reported, said Joe DeBold, urban wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. And the hunters who participate? Well, they've found a hunting paradise right here in the big city.
In 2010, 480 deer were taken in the program — 326 does, 104 bucks and 50 button bucks.
Cascone is one of many who is excited about the program.
He hunts on a patch of undeveloped land that is just blocks from a subdivision, and it didn't take him long to discover that it was full of deer.
"The first time I went there, I saw deer just walking to my stand," he said. "There are more deer in the city than people realize.
"When they build these subdivisions and leave a few acres of timber, those deer will move right in there.
"It doesn't take much to hold them."
Cascone shot a doe the first time he hunted in the city. Then this season, he climbed into his tree stand and immediately spotted a big buck trailing does. He fired his arrow and had a deer with an eight-point rack.
"I was in my tree stand for less than 10 minutes," Cascone said.
Cascone's longtime friend, Mike Brogoto, also has found success bow hunting in the city. He took a 14-point buck, his biggest ever, several years ago on land enrolled in the program.
"Hunting in the city, it almost guarantees you that you will see deer," he said. "And the great thing is, you can hunt close to home.
"I probably go out 25 times a season, even if it's only for an hour or two."
Taking a deer is no guarantee, though.
Cascone emphasized that even though they are hunting city deer, they aren't tame, as many people believe.
"If you're walking through the woods and they see you, they're gone," Cascone said. "They wind (smell) you, they're gone.
"You have to hunt the same way as you do anywhere else."
Especially because the hunting is done in an urban setting, safety is emphasized in the program. That's why only archery methods are allowed.
"With bow hunting, the average shot is 20 yards or less," DeBold said. "The hunter has to identify his or her target and let it get close.
"Most bow hunters hunt from a tree stand so they are shooting down at their target and the arrow doesn't travel far. So there are built-in safety factors."
The main goal of the program is to reduce deer numbers in the urban area, which had grown too large in parts of the city. Surveys had shown that the population had grown to more than 100 deer per square mile in some areas, much more than the 35 to 40 per square mile that DeBold said would be acceptable.
Those deer were causing increased vehicle accidents and complaints about doing damage to ornamental plantings in yards.
DeBold believes the private land hunting program, plus a series of managed archery hunts in city parks, is reducing the population, while providing added recreation at the same time.
"We're very pleased with the program," he said. "I keep monitoring the websites of other big cities across the nation, and I can't see one that has a program that can match ours."