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Our View: City deer-hunting plan seems right on target

Since hunting was permitted on private land in the city two decades ago, about 150 people have been certified, while complaints about urban bow hunters have been almost nonexistent.

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Our View
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On Monday, the Rochester City Council unanimously approved a proposal that will allow a limited number of bow hunters to hunt deer in some of the city's public parks.

We endorse this idea. Deer-car collisions in Rochester have been on the increase for years, and deer increasingly are taking a toll on trees and other vegetation on both public and private property. Because deer have no natural enemies in Southeast Minnesota, the task of thinning the herd falls to hunters — even when the herd lives in an urban area.

Nevertheless, we understand the trepidation some park users might feel about this idea.

After all, one of the reasons people go to parks is to get a taste of nature. The presence of deer, turkeys or even a fox in a public green space adds beauty and excitement to a morning run or an afternoon with the kids. The very notion of hunting in such areas — in relatively close proximity to ballfields, playgrounds and picnic areas — can seem unsafe.

But the reality is that archery hunting has been happening within Rochester's city limits for 17 years as part of an ongoing effort to control the city's deer population.

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Back in 2005 — after a city council debate and vote that were far more contentious than what occurred Monday — the city approved a plan to allow archers to hunt deer within the city limits. The rules approved at that time are pretty much the same rules that will apply to hunts within city parks.

Hunters are required to take an advanced, archery-specific hunter education course online. With that task accomplished, they go to Archery Headquarters in northeast Rochester to take a shooting proficiency test that requires them to hit an 8-inch diameter target with five of seven arrows from a distance of 20 yards.

Archery Headquarters owner Marty Stubstad, who taught the bow hunter education class for a decade before it went online, says the shooting test he administers is especially stringent because he requires archers to use arrows tipped with razor-sharp multi-bladed broadheads, rather than easier-to-shoot target arrows.

“It's not an easy test,” Stubstad said this week. “A lot of people don't practice much with broadheads, but when we put this test in place years ago we wanted the test to be rigorous, to simulate actual hunting conditions.”

The rigorous test appears to be working as intended. Stubstad estimates that during the past 17 years he has certified about 150 people to hunt within the city limits. In that time, complaints about urban bow hunters have been almost nonexistent.

“The hunters have done a remarkably good job,” Stubstad said.

Safety, of course, is the top priority. The good news in that regard is that accidental shootings by bow hunters simply don't happen. Archers sometimes are injured or killed when they fall from a tree stand, but they don't accidentally shoot people.

Still, Rochester requires bow hunters to be elevated at least five feet off the ground, to ensure that all shots essentially have the ground as a backstop. Furthermore, hunters can't hunt within 200 feet of any building without written permission of the owner.

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But being a good bow hunter isn't just about safety. It's about ethics. While not every shot will be perfect, an ethical bow hunter waits for a clear shot at the deer's vitals. That can be frustrating, because it sometimes means a hunter must pass up a shot at a deer 10 yards away simply because the angle is bad, or a twig is in the way.

The last thing an ethical hunter wants is to wound an animal, and that's especially true in an urban setting. No one wants to see a deer walking around a city park with an arrow protruding from its shoulder. It wouldn't take many such incidents to turn public opinion against urban hunting, so participants in these park hunts will be well-advised to practice. A lot.

Some important questions need to be resolved between now and mid-September, when the archery deer hunting season begins. While the bow hunting season runs until Dec. 31, it seems unlikely — even unreasonable — that some park areas will be largely closed off to non-hunters for 3 ½ months. We will be curious to see when hunting will be allowed, in which parks, and how the public will be notified where and when hunting is taking place.

Also, we wonder whether hunters will be encouraged (or perhaps required) to shoot female deer. While most hunters dream of shooting a trophy buck, the fact is that shooting a buck does little to control the deer population. If the purpose of these park hunts is to reduce deer numbers, then participants should be willing to shoot the first mature doe that comes their way. To that end, the city might consider an “earn-a-buck” rule that requires hunters to shoot a doe before they can target an antlered deer.

Even if these special hunts remove some deer from the herd, Rochester will continue to grapple with wildlife-related problems. Conflict arises every time a farm is annexed into the city or a former wooded oasis within Rochester is turned into half-acre lots for high-end homes. Growth comes at a price, and sometimes animals pay it.

Such conflict isn't always avoidable, but every time a former industrial area is repurposed for retail or high-density housing, nature is spared. When a city grows upward, rather than outward, nature wins.

So, while an archer's arrow can help reduce future conflicts with wildlife, so too can smart growth.

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