Aiming to thin city’s herd

Officials hope allowing bow hunting will reduce deer nuisance.
Monday, October 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mary Nirmaier has seen the nuisance deer can pose to road safety if allowed to run amok. She lives off Rock Quarry Road in Columbia, a meandering stretch of asphalt notorious for its hairpin curves and plentiful deer.

“Not long ago, a driver struck a deer, flipped over and ended up in my yard,” she said. “These deer have gotten out of hand. That wreck was the third of its kind in the last two years. I’ve warned the City Council that if something isn’t done soon I’m afraid that one of these accidents will result in someone being killed.”

After a year of debate, her plea has been answered. In July, the Columbia City Council decided to allow bow hunting for deer on four city-owned tracts.

Bow hunting has always been legal on private property within Columbia city limits. But until now bow hunting had been prohibited entirely on city property. The city-owned lands now accessible to bow hunting are the Grindstone Nature Area just east of Rock Quarry Road, the Sanitary Landfill by Wyatt Lane and Hinkson Creek Road, the Sewer Utility property along Perche Creek at Strawn Road and part of the Twin Lakes Recreation Area.

The criteria used in the selection process of the properties was its proximity to other private land often used for bow hunting, the frequency of deer-car collisions in the area or if the locale had a relatively low number of visitors.

“It’s really fortunate that there haven’t been any fatalities associated with these accidents,” said Bill Watkins, assistant city manager. “However, a number of these incidents have been very serious. Every year, more and more of these collisions occur. It was ultimately decided that action needed to be taken in order to prevent the potential of future fatalities.”

From 1999 to 2001, an average of 80 deer-car collisions per year was reported by the Columbia Police Department. That number dropped significantly in 2002 and 2003 to an average of 50; an aberration that Columbia Traffic Officer Lyn Woolford attributes to the under-reporting of car-deer accidents.

“Last year, 49 accidents involving vehicular collisions with deer were reported, a figure significantly lower than the actual number,” Woolford said.

Robyn Raisch, an agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said last year 20 to 25 special permits to kill deer out of season were issued.

“In terms of phone calls (about deer complaints), I’d say we’ve had three times that number,” Raisch said. “Over the last 10 years, there has been a noticeable increase in deer activity. Quite simply, there are too many deer within city limits and citizens need some relief.”

Although this measure is a practical temporary solution to deer management, Raisch believes the city must continue to free up public property for bow hunting in order to have a lasting effect.

“With any luck, the city will continually expand (bow hunting on city property) each year,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that the four properties don’t account for a lot of acreage comparatively speaking (to all public-owned land). The overall impact on deer population won’t be affected much, but you have to start somewhere.”

John George, national history biologist with the Missouri Conservation Department’s central region, was a major proponent of permitting archery on city property to counter the increasing trend of car-deer accidents.

From there, it was decided that if hunting were to be permitted on city-owned territory, firearms would be too great a cause for concern.

“As most anyone should know, firearms are extremely loud and can be incredibly dangerous,” he said. “Archery is not like firearm hunting. It is relatively safe and can be accomplished in small spaces. What’s more is that it can be done without adversely affecting the way people look at city properties.”

Phil Yoder, 22, a bow hunter in his second year, thinks archery should prove to be a nonhazardous, effective resolution to the high concentration of deer present in Columbia.

“Considering that bow hunting is a close-range sport — which is not always the case when hunting with a gun — I’d say that it’s definitely a safe way to cut down on the deer in this town,” Yoder said. In more than 30 outings last year, Yoder killed three deer.

George said it’s in his understanding that Columbia is the only municipal community in the state that is this proactive toward deer management.

“In my mind, for this city to initiate deer-control management on public property was definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.

With the commencement of archery deer hunting season Sept. 15 — the earliest start in Columbia’s recent history — about 100 hunters registered to hunt on these city tracts.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the sheer volume of hunters interested in hunting on one of these properties,” George said.

Before Sept. 16, Harvey Borntrager, 19, had never flung an arrow in the direction of a deer. As he twirled the bloody cock feather of his first successful arrow between his fingers, he relived his success.

“When I had the deer in my sight, about 25 yards off, I got real nervous but remained steady enough to hit it in the kill zone,” said Borntrager, who was hunting in the backwoods of the Sanitary Landfill.

“You know, I’ve had my eye on this particular land for some time,” he said. “I knew that there were a lot of deer here, and I couldn’t be happier getting one on my first try.”

The arrow pierced its intended target just before sundown. But it wouldn’t be until 10:30 that evening, with the aid of a flashlight, that Borntrager would stumble upon his prize.

“Before I killed that young buck, I probably saw about nine or 10 other deer wandering in the distance,” Borntrager said. “It seems to me that there are too many deer around here. Their numbers definitely need to be reduced a bit.”

Yoder echoes that very same sentiment.

“The deer population in Columbia has gotten way too big,” Yoder said. “The deer are getting in the roads and raising hell. I don’t have any problems eliminating some of them to prevent them from hitting cars.”

Yoder said he hopes this measure proves effective in its inaugural effort.

“Hopefully, this will turn out to be a good idea,” he said. “All I know is that I’m going to do my part (by hunting these city grounds), but I can’t eliminate the deer all by myself.”

With the high reproduction rates deer have, if 20 or more deer are killed on these city properties this season, next year’s deer population ought to be stably lower in these areas, George said.

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