The Urban Deer Archery Hunt is keeping deer populations healthy and feeding many hungry people.
Perched high in the trees of Morgantown are camo-clad ninjas. They sit patiently with their bows and arrows, waiting for their shot do good in the neighborhood.
Chances are you’ve heard of them. Maybe you caught a whisper through the grapevine of an urban deer hunt. Maybe you noshed on some of the thousands of pounds of their donated venison. But, chances are equally likely you’ve seen neither hide nor hair of these elusive hunters.
That’s the point.
“We get questions all the time and people say, ‘I’d love to get hunters in my neighborhood,’” says bowhunter Rick Bebout. He acted as the volunteer hunt coordinator for seven years before recently passing the title on to Paul Crumrine. When people tell Bebout they’d like to get hunters, he shows them that there’s already one, two, even four hunters located in their vicinity. The revelation never fails to surprise. “That’s a good compliment when people say they haven’t seen them.”
The Urban Deer Archery Hunt got its unofficial start in 2010. Then, city officials contemplated permitting an urban hunt to curb the escalating deer population. Talk turned to action when a spring 2011 aerial infrared survey counted more than 600 deer within the city limits―roughly 60 deer per square mile. “In the summer of 2011, we got the green light to have an urban hunt, something which has been done successfully all over the country,” Bebout says.
Don’t let Bambi’s cuteness fool you. High-density deer populations cause problems. Too many concentrated in a single, congested area can negatively impact the ecosystem and harm the health of the herds. Other concerns include dangerous vehicle accidents, expensive property damage, and the potential for an increased spread of Lyme disease―a bacterial infection that deer ticks can carry. With large predators less likely to leave the forest for city life, it’s up to humans to regulate the deer.
Morgantown’s program has averaged about 70 bowhunters each autumn since 2011, although that tally fluctuates, says Bebout. These folks aren’t just anyone off the street who might have shot an arrow once at summer camp. Hunters must fill out applications, have valid West Virginia hunting licenses, complete a bowhunter education course, and pass an archery proficiency test. They only hunt on permitted property and, above all, must be the very image of discretion. “Everything is strategic, from entry to exit,” Bebout says.
Perhaps the greatest testament to these hunters’ caliber is that they’ve had zero accidents. Zip. Zilch. Nada. They’re going on nine seasons of nothing but precision.
Another number further testifies to their good character: four tons. That’s the amount of donated venison they soon hope to achieve. Participants aren’t required to donate their harvests, but many have over the years. As of October 2019, they’ve given more than 7,500 pounds of nutritious and delicious ground venison to local organizations such as shelters and soup kitchens.
“Part of the reason I wanted to be involved with this from the beginning was because it’s important to let people know the role hunters play in the greater good,” Bebout says. A Morgantown native, he enjoys using his passion as an avid outdoorsman to help his community. “It’s volunteer work, but it’s the best volunteer work there is.”
From keeping the deer population manageable to providing food for the hungry, the Urban Deer Archery Hunt is doing good in Morgantown. Just don’t be surprised if you don’t see it, at first.