LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - The solution to deadly collisions between cars and deer might be as simple as draw, aim and release – as urban bow hunters take to the trees in communities around the Kansas City metro in ever-growing numbers.
“For us it’s all about a public safety issue," urban wildlife biologist Joe DeBold of the Missouri Department of Conservation said. “We've got to get these deer-vehicle collisions down.”
Indeed, the Missouri Highway Patrol said there was a deer vs. vehicle crash every 2.2 hours in 2012. In Kansas, deer were blamed for more than 8,000 crashes in that year with the greatest number recorded in suburban Johnson County.
An effort that began more than a decade ago to control expanding white tail deer populations, now coming into contact with humans more regularly as suburban sprawl grows, gains new adherents every year as more and more communities allow hunters some freedom to operate on public or private land formerly off-limits.
“I really believe that we're right at about 20,000 acres that we have enrolled in this program and I don't believe we're even scratching the surface,” DeBold said. “This might take decades to catch up with a population that has had decades and decades to reproduce.”
In Kansas City, DeBold has approved some limited forms of bow hunting in places one might not expect to find a hunter, including on the grounds of KCI, in Swope Park and even at the Worlds of Fun amusement park where pumpkins left out after Oktoberfest each year draw deer by the dozens.
Other metro communities have added or expanded urban hunting opportunities in recent years.
Independence, Blue Springs, Parkville and Lee’s Summit each have some sort of hunting ordinance on the books. In Kansas, Lenexa, Olathe and most of Wyandotte County allow some kind of bow hunting to control deer populations.
So, too, does Leavenworth, where avid hunter Dave Ruiter said he took the greatest buck of his life less than a mile from his home in the city.
“I can leave my home here and be up, in the closest one at least, of my tree stands in about seven or eight minutes,” Ruiter said during a visit to his home on the last day of hunting season this winter. “It’s a great way for me to combine a great hobby that I enjoy with a civil service.”
Leavenworth’s program for deer hunting is considered something of a model. It requires hunters to use a tree stand and be at least 10 feet off the ground so any errant arrow ends up in the ground. Hunters are required to take an antlerless deer before they can take a buck-- a measure specifically designed to control the deer’s breeding population.
Debold said the number of deer taken each year in the decade-long history of Kansas City’s urban bow hunting program continues to rise as awareness and interest grows.
“This is all about harvest. What we're doing is reducing deer numbers, but we're using the hunting method to do it. So the deer actually get used in a productive way,” Debold said. “They're feeding families.”