STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some days ago, we brought you the story of a man who got in trouble for shooting a deer during deer hunting season. The problem being that the deer at the time was in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart. Turns out that's sort of a thing. In this deer hunting season, as many hunters tromp through the woods, many of their prey can be found closer to home grazing in neighborhood backyards, which has led to the rise in the popularity of urban and suburban deer hunts.
Dan Kraker of Minnesota Public Radio reports.
DAN KRAKER, BYLINE: When a group called the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance first started hunting in Duluth, Minnesota nine years ago, they anticipated a vocal not-in-my-backyard response. But President Phillip Lockett says more often they hear this: Why not in my backyard?
PHILLIP LOCKETT: It's kind of surprising, you get these little old ladies that you don't think would be, you know, furious with the deer but they're almost bloodthirsty. They're just like, we want them all gone.
KRAKER: Now, she may not be bloodthirsty, but 81-year-old Sally Sneve was certainly fed up with the damage deer were doing to her yard, when she contacted Lockett's group five years ago.
SALLY SNEVE: And I said look out there. And they were like cows chewing their cuds. And there were 16 of them.
KRAKER: Sneve enjoys seeing the deer, especially when fawns are born in the spring. But she dreads them as they get older.
SNEVE: I just know, oh, they're going to be eating our bushes. But they are darling little things.
KRAKER: Those darling little Bambies already killed several big cedar trees in her yard. They're also a public safety issue. Nationwide, there were more than 1.2 million deer-car collisions over the past year, that's twice as many as a couple decades ago. And this is the time most of the crashes occur, when deer are mating and on the move.
But the Sneve's house is perched right above downtown Duluth. So Bowhunter Brian Borkholder handpicks the archer who can hunt there. They have to pass a proficiency test. And they usually shoot from tree stands so any errant arrows stick into the ground.
BRIAN BORKHOLDER: And I tell them that they're not allowed to take any shots beyond 20 yards, 'cause obviously as tight as we are, we're right above the police station and City Hall, we need these shots to be gimmes, we can't afford to have a wounded animal running around.
KRAKER: Which is exactly what Mike Englemann says happened a couple years ago, at his home in suburban Minneapolis.
MIKE ENGLEMANN: One day a deer wandered through and it had an arrow sticking through its head. I thought it was awful looking.
KRAKER: Englemann's city is one of hundreds across the country that have adopted urban bow hunts. And that list is growing, with communities from Minnesota to Arkansas to Utah holding them for the first time this year. But not everyone is crazy about hunters picking off hosta-munching deer from backyard tree stands.
LESLIE SIMON: They amount to an unnecessary killing of animals, in our view.
KRAKER: That's Leslie Simon, a wildlife ecologist for the Humane Society, who argues that while hunts may dent the deer population, their numbers bounce back.
SIMON: It's really a losing battle. The deer are going to come in from the surrounding area and continue to be tempted to your backyard.
KRAKER: So instead, the Humane Society suggests planting flowers and shrubs that don't attract deer, using repellants, or high fencing.
But despite some communities adopting those strategies, the white tailed deer population is skyrocketing, up to an estimated 30 million. That's more deer than there are people in the entire state of Texas. And that has hunters finding some unlikely allies, including the National Wildlife Federation, where Doug Inkley says hunts are the only effective way to keep urban deer in check.
DOUG INKLEY: We have changed their environment by removing their predators. It's incumbent upon us to do something to provide that proper balance for nature and for humans.
KRAKER: If we don't, he says deer will continue to proliferate and gardens, cars and forests will pay the price.
For NPR News, I'm Dan Kraker in Duluth, Minnesota.
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