Cumberland Times-News

Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors

April 14, 2012

Mountain State’s backyard backstraps

— Homeowners’ associations in West Virginia, especially those in the Eastern Panhandle, are signing on with the Division of Natural Resources for special neighborhood archery hunts for the deer that are eating their ornamental and garden plants.

“Word is spreading,” said Rich Rogers, the wildlife biologist who oversees critter management in Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire, Hardy, Grant, Pendleton and Mineral counties.

“This past year we had five homeowners’ associations hold hunts and we have an additional three applications for 2012.”

The program enters its ninth year and the Whitings Neck Farm Estates in Berkeley County has had backyard hunts since it began.

These hunts begin two full weeks ahead of the general archery season and have allowed archers to take two deer that do not count against the seasonal bag limit. Hunters who have harvested two deer may continue to bowhunt using their regular license.

The Natural Resources Commission will announce April 29 whether or not it has approved an increase in this special deer harvest from two to seven. The homeowners’ groups pretty much call all the shots, figuratively for sure and sometimes even literally.

“They pick who can hunt, when they can hunt, where they can hunt,” Rogers said. “Successful hunters check the deer in with a designated person in the development.”

Hunters can take either bucks or does. “Some associations set a rule that the first couple deer have to be antlerless,” Rogers said.

“One development actually provides color-coded maps showing which properties are open for hunting, which properties are not open for hunting but open for retrieval of a dead deer and which properties don’t allow hunting or retrieval.”

Has a shot deer ever expired on another person’s property?

“Happens all the time,” Rogers said.

Has that ever caused any problems?

“None that I’ve been told about,” Rogers added.

Allan Niederberger, also a Romney-based biologist for DNR, said a lot of people in new housing developments in the Eastern Panhandle have moved into the state from elsewhere and often have no understanding of hunting.

One such person, Niederberger recalled, phoned the agency when an arrow-struck deer wandered into the yard.

The caller told the biologist, somewhat sadly, that he had placed a blanket over the deer and watched “as the life went out of it.”

“A few years later, after that person’s flowers had been eaten time after time, the whole attitude changed and the home association’s hunt became a good thing in his eyes,” Niederberger said.

“Some of the residents of these developments never get a tomato from their gardens,” Rogers said.

Rogers said there are times when a homeowners’ association has difficulty getting enough residents to agree to a hunt.

“We go in and explain how it works and why it will help,” he said. “Hunting from elevated stands is not required, but we recommend it,” Rogers added, referencing added safety because of a downward shooting angle.

Niederberger said he has had residents who initially objected to a hunt tell him afterwards that they didn’t even know a hunt was taking place, it was so unobtrusive.

“Even if the association doesn’t agree to a hunt, it is legal for anybody in the state to bowhunt in their own backyard,” Rogers said.

Although there is a 500-foot safety zone required when hunting with a firearm, no such regulation applies to archery in West Virginia, according to Niederberger.

Permission for a hunt in a development is given for one year. Associations must reapply annually before March.

Do the hunts work? Do they resolve or reduce plant damage by deer?

“Every female deer you take out helps a little bit,” Niederberger said.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors
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