MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — All across West Virginia the push to reduce whitetail deer numbers within the boundaries of city limits is underway. Urban archery hunts have become effective tools to tackle the difficult problem of destructive deer numbers in residential areas.
As more and more municipal governments noticed the problem more than two decades ago, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has put together an urban archery hunting plan. The plan addresses some of the more difficult issues regarding the close proximity of hunting within areas where people and pets live. The programs have been rolled out with great success.
Most cities report a noticeable reduction in deer damages and there have been no reports of problems or accidents associated with hunters following the rules of discretion.
Morgantown is one of the cities which has benefitted from the program and its function has become a model for other cities. Rick Bebout has been involved in organizing the hunt since its earliest days.
“That’s why I wanted to be part of this to show bowhunting, and hunting in general, to the non-hunting public in a positive way,” said Bebout in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors.
Morgantown, like other cities, requires a proficiency test for any hunter who is selected for an urban permit. Each must also know the rules and regulations, which are more rigid than the normal bowhunting regulations.
“If they’re hunting in a high traffic area like the Arboretum or the Rail Trail, if they’re hauling a deer out it’s going to be under a tarp and covered. We’re not driving around town with our tailgates down,” said Bebout.
He added those who participate in the urban hunt are more than just hunting, they need to understand they are ambassadors and represent all hunters in the eyes of those who don’t hunt. Image is extremely important, particularly when you’re literally hunting in their back yards.
“Everybody in our program now has bought into it 110 percent and that’s really what’s led to our success,” Bebout said.
The number of urban hunting permits can vary year to year depending on population dynamics and how many deer need to be removed from a city’s landscape. Bebout has a waiting list of hunters who want to be part of the event, and not everybody gets the privilege. Hunters are assigned various plots of land where they are allowed to hunt. The areas assigned for hunting come from residents who register their property with the city. There is a minimum requirement of contiguous acreage. West Virginia University is a major landowner in the city and they are on board.
“If we have smaller pieces, we try to patch two or three smaller properties together. All the university farms are incorporated into the city and WVU has been a huge proponent of our hunt. Obviously they do a lot of agricultural research which deer can impact,” he explained.
Bebout said he’s often approached by residents asking if they could get hunters in their neighborhood. He said usually he tells them, they are already hunting there. When it’s suggested by residents the never see hunters, Bebout smiles. It’s a good indicator the program is working well.
What is also working well is the dispersion of the meat. Hunt organizers have cut a deal with a local meat processor and the donated venison is ground and distributed through several local foodbanks.
“Hunters can donate the deer. We pick up the processed meat and distribute it to about five agencies in town. The city picks up the bill for processing,” said Bebout.
In the first 10 years, Morgantown’s urban bowhunters have harvested 955 deer and have donated 9,501 pounds of ground venison to help the citizens of Morgantown in need.