City weighs allowing deer hunting

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 06:50 PM

City Council members may eventually allow people to kill deer within Durham using a bow and arrow, but for now, they say a proposed ordinance that would clear the way for an annual hunt needs more work.

The main issue demanding attention, they said, is how big a buffer to leave around homes and other structures.

The proposed ordinance that administrators drafted after consultations with experts from Duke University and the state requires would-be hunters to make sure the parcel of land they’re shooting on is larger than two acres.

But council members suggested considering a four- or five-acre minimum, and including an additional 250-foot buffer from property lines, dwellings and other occupied structures.

“I’m not trying to block this, [but] we don’t allow people to shoot firearms in the city limits and I’m not particularly comfortable with bows and arrows either,” said Councilwoman Diane Catotti.

She added that the prospective hunt is more suited to “our larger wooded areas.”

City officials are studying the issue because they’ve been fielding requests for about a year now, from residents and local hunters, for a loosening of the city’s existing, across-the-board ban on shooting wild game.

Supporters of a hunt say it’s a good way to curb a deer-overpopulation problem that results each year in a multitude of bent car fenders and damaged gardens.

The proposed ordinance would allow bow-and-arrow use by licensed hunters during the state’s annual late-summer/early fall deer season. It could also set the stage for the city to participate in the state’s “urban archery program,” a second hunting season in mid-winter.

Hunters could take game on their own land, or on someone else’s if they can get the owner’s permission.

As drafted, would-be archers would have to use “a permanent or portable elevated platform” that’s at least 10 feet off the ground. That’s meant as a safety measure, to ensure that when a hunter fires, the arrow flies at a downward angle that allows it only a short flight.

City Manager Tom Bonfield’s staff modeled the proposal on a law in Wake Forest that also includes a minimum parcel size and an elevated-platform requirement.

But Wake Forest’s minimum-parcel standard appears less restrictive than the Durham proposal.

While the northern Wake County town sets a five-acre minimum, it says hunters can meet it through an “aggregation of continuous tracts or parcels.” The Durham version says nothing about spanning multiple properties.

The Wake Forest ordinance includes additional buffers. Arrows can’t be “fired from or propelled within” 50 yards of a dwelling or road right of way, or within 100 yards of a day care, school, church or park.

The initial draft of Durham’s law didn’t echo those provisions, but council members on Thursday suggested adding similar restrictions to the Durham draft.

Neighboring Chapel Hill allows bow hunting and doesn’t set a minimum lot size. Bob Reda, president of the Broken Arrow Archery Club, said he’s obtained permission to hunt on about 30 properties in Chapel Hill; only four or so are larger than two acres.

He added that an owner’s permission has to allow not just the shooting of an animal but also the retrieval of its carcass. Wounded deer can travel a few dozen or even a couple hundred yards before they expire.

Skepticism about allowing a hunt came from Dave Owen, a local activist known for his work on Eno River issues.

He read to the council a poem styled as a conversation between a doe and a fawn, the doe complaining that humans “want to skewer us right in their own back yard” when tall garden fencing and a measured approach to driving would as easily address the problem.

“So what did the deer say?” Mayor Bill Bell quipped after Owen finished.

“The deer said, if the deer’s still alive, ‘Please don’t mow me down,’” Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden answered.

But Cole-McFadden added later that deer are numerous enough, in her north Durham neighborhood, to make driving there at night frightening and to negate residents’ attempts at vegetable gardening.