By Evey Wilson
Special to the Durham VOICE
The Back Story
Eric Steinbicker, a dentist in Mebane, N.C. spearheaded the issue of urban bow deer hunting in Durham. “It was my idea,” Steinbicker said, “I grew up in the area and knew there were a lot of deer being killed.” As a hunter, he wants the deer to go to a good cause, such as donating the meat to food shelters, rather than seeing deer die in car collisions. The bow season is two months longer than the regular hunting season, which allows hunters to enjoy a longer season but also allows more time to curb the rising deer population.
To start, Steinbicker wrote an online petition titled Urban Archery Deer Program on chance.org The online petition included facts about the dangers deer impose in cities and statistics about the number of deer-related accidents and diseases. The petition had 338 signatures before it was presented before the Durham City Council. Steinbicker was placed on a Deer Reduction committee organized through the Durham County commissioners office that worked on the ordinance for more than a year.
Last week, Mon., Nov. 4, the ordinance passed unanimously. The bowhunting ordinance allows licensed hunters to hunt within city limits as long as they hunt from a stand at least ten feet tall, on at least five acres and are at least 250 ft. away from homes and businesses. The ordinance includes a clause that requires a report in two years to see if the ordinance really is limiting deer-related accidents and collisions. According to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission the bowhunting season in Durham County for deer runs from Sept. 7 – Nov. 1.
Steinbicker explains that the ordinance no only limits the dangers of deer, but also allows younger hunters to be exposed to hunting. “It allows people to hunt in their backyard so to speak,” Steinbicker says.
What does this ordinance change?
The ordinance allows anyone to bowhunt according to the restrictions within the Durham city limits. Hunters must hunt on at least 5 acres of land, (which could be five tracks of 1 acre land) from a 10ft stand at least 250ft away from any residential, government or commercial area. Hunters must have permission of the landowners.
During the deer-hunting season, hunters are given 6 deer tags for 2 bucks and 4 does. During season, hunters can purchase two new doe tags each day, making hunting not very limited. Already in Durham County, hunters can hunt year-round on land where the owners have serious problems with deer, such as farmers who can’t keep the deer out of their crops. A game warden approves the land for a certain amount of deer tags, which the landowner can give to hunters that can use the meat or donate the meat to food shelters.
Hunters feel as though this is the most humane way to handle the rising deer population. Derek St. Romain of Durham, Regional Coordinator for Backyard Bow Pros, says, “You’re looking at one of the highest deer populations in North America. You’re standing in the middle of it.” He explains. “I’d rather humanely harvest a deer with a bow than have it suffer and get hit by a car.”
Is bowhunting deer dangerous?
No. (Unless you’re a clumsy hunter…)
While Durham City Council woman Diane Catotti was worried about voting in favor of the ordinance due to safety and inhumane treatment of deer, her worries may have been unfounded. Bowhunters are some of the safest hunters. Travis Casper, the Hunter Education Coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, confirmed that there were no documented archery accidents in 2011 – 2012 for the entire state of North Carolina. “There have never been accidents like that,” Casper said, “All archery accidents documented to the state have been self inflicted, like a cut or a fall out of the tree stand.” As for inhumane treatment of the deer, deer usually fall to the ground immediately upon being hit. Most agree that being hit by a bow is far more humane than being hit by a car.
Members of the Durham City Council checked with other municipalities that allow urban bowhunting and found that none have reported archery-related injuries. Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Greenville, Concord and Kannapolis all allow bow hunting of deer within city limits.
Yes, many residents of Durham have been noticing that deer are a problem. One Durham resident, Maggie Swerlick, sees deer regularly on runs by her apartment.
The Duke Forest in Durham has particularly noticed an influx. To deal with the issue, the Office of the Duke Forest created the Annual Deer Herd Reduction program, when they close down three divisions of the forest to public access and only allow approved hunters to bow and gun hunt to reduce the excess white-tailed deer. This year the Annual Deer Herd Reduction is on its sixth year. Due to the forest being private property, this program was instituted prior to the passing of the city-wide ordinance allowing bow-hunting deer, but the effects they have noticed prove true to the city of Durham. The ordinance in Durham is only different because the city ordinance allows anyone who is interested to hunt whereas the Deer Herd Reduction program with the Duke Forest only allows a select group of approved hunters to participate.
The Office of the Duke Forest has found that the excess deer are damaging the plant diversity and other wildlife in the forest according to a study conducted in 2005. All hunters participating in the program understand they are hunting for the intention of limiting the amount of deer and must record information about the demographics of the deer they shoot. Hunters have found that the deer in Duke Forest are actually getting healthier because of this reduction program. Joey Thompson, records chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, explained that hunters are finding deer with healthier kidneys and weights. The deer they hunt now weigh up to 60lbs more than the deer they found the first two seasons.
The deer are getting healthier, other wildlife is thriving, and people are safer. Overpopulated deer herds are also linked to increases in tick populations and Lyme disease that can be dangerous to residents. Deer are also a major cause of car accidents. Thousands of wrecks are year are related to deer in North Carolina, about 300 of those in Durham. This doesn’t even begin to include the damages deer have on crops for local farmers.
What happens to the meat?
It is federal law that a no one can make a profit off of wild game. While hunters can’t sell their meat, they can donate it.
Backyard Bow Pro is a nonprofit organization that has been donating deer meat to food shelters for the past three years. Derek St. Romaine, regional coordinator for Backyard Bow Pro and Chef Manager at Duke Diet and Fitness Center, estimates that the organization has donated over 300,00 meals in the area. One deer provides 50 lbs on average, which can be used in up to 200 meals.
One must go through a background check and a hunting proficiency test to qualify for membership with Backyard Bow Pro. Each member is required to donate at least one deer a season to a local food bank. Backyard Bow Pros donate to the Durham Rescue Mission, Shepherd’s Table in Raleigh, and the American Red Cross among others. Backyard pays to have the meat processed, and then distributes the meat through food shelters, directly to people through churches or even online where people in need can reach out directly to the hunters.
The Community Kitchen of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Chapel Hill accepts wild game donations. Elizabeth Garfunkel, Executive Assistant at IFC, explained that while hunters donate venison, the patrons prefer beef or pork donated from grocery stores. “It’s just excessive sometimes, the wild meat,” Garfunkel says, “People like hunting and they think, “Give it to the homeless!” Hunters donate the meat directly to the IFC community kitchen. “I’m not sure how they’re sure the game is fresh. I’m not really sure of the protocol,” Garfunkel says.
The Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC, a large organization that distributes food to partner nonprofits in the area, does not accept wild game donations. Margaret Lockard, a volunteer of 6 years, says, “I don’t know if you’d find anyone that would take it or not. We don’t and I don’t know of anyone that does.” All of the meat given to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC must be inspected and approved by the government.
Food shelters use the wild game donations, but hunters also eat the meat. “I’ve got five kids that I home-school and that’s all we eat, is wild game,” Romaine says, “I lead a great life.”
So what do you need to know?
Next fall, hunters will be able to use bow and arrows to hunt deer with in the Durham city limits on private land at least 250 feet away from anything else. This shouldn’t change much except hopefully there will be less deer-related car crashes, crop damage, and Lyme disease incidents. Your hunting friends will be happy that they get to shoot a longer season locally and food banks will have an excess of venison.