"When I drove up Interstate 55 just north of Jackson where the highway merges with I-220, I saw four bucks standing beside the road," James Bennett said. "This is right in Madison County. It was just a miracle that the deer I saw were not hit on the highway.
"There was a time when this happening would have been a rare event worth spreading the word to colleagues and friends. Now it's such a common occurrence that it's no big deal anymore."
This is a commentary I hear in the Jackson Metro Area all the time, but it is happening all over the state. Lots of questions usually follow the story.
"Have deer taken over our towns and neighborhoods?" "Is it normal to see four bucks running together in September?" "I hear deer are eating the shrubs right out of people's yards." "Is there any way to control the numbers of deer coming into town ruining our landscapes and causing numerous car collisions?"
Bennett wanted to know what's going on.
Jim Harper of Vicksburg had a startling surprise outside his house just last September as well.
"We've seen whitetails in the neighborhood for years because there is a lake behind the house with some ideal deer habitat beyond it," Harper said. "However, last September I walked out the front door of my house and a big doe jumped up in the flower bed right up against the house. She was not particularly scared of me and just walked off around the corner of the house."
Deer bedding in the front yard might be a little too close for some people.
Plenty of evidence exists to prove that deer are fast becoming city dwellers, and have been for some time. They are highly adaptive and not especially fearful of human contact when people do not harass them. They even learn to live with yard dogs and seem to enjoy turning an occasional taunt into a chase.
Perhaps the white-tailed deer has become too adaptive.
Instituting deer control or deer management plans within populated residential communities is not a simple process. Most hunters I talked to are in favor of the opportunities under the right set of circumstances. Homeowners with yards being eaten up may support it, as might city drivers who have had an automobile collision with a deer in town.
Still, others don't like the idea of hunters lurking around in neighborhoods trying to harvest deer or, quite frankly, they just enjoy seeing the wildlife.
Municipalities have to plan long and hard to allow deer hunting in the city limits in order to attempt to equally placate all interested parties. Regulations have to protect private property and access to certain venues of publicly held land, as well
At the same time, if hunting is permitted, it should not be implemented so restrictively that it has no positive impact. After all, the ultimate plan has to address the deer management issues.
Attitudes on residential hunting
The jury is still out with some people on the issue of deer hunting or hunting in general. There are large factions on either end of the argument, but an even more sizeable populace that is basically neutral to the issue.
As hunters, it is our responsibility to behave in a credible manner so as not to turn the neutral vote against us. This is particularly important when hunters are permitted to exercise their sport where our actions can be casually observed, such as hunting in residential areas.
"Living in Hinds County but working in Rankin County, I commute along several different back roads," Bennett said. "It is not usual to see deer standing along the roadside, in ditches, and sometimes in front yards. I know there are a lot of deer-car collisions in the area every year.
"I don't hunt, but if the counties or these communities could work out some manner to hunt these deer to help control the population I certainly would be in favor of it."
There is a growing sentiment among many city dwellers that too many deer roaming residential areas is both damaging to households and potentially dangerous to drivers.
In an Outdoor Life article last September, Executive Editor Andrew McKean made some arguments for a declining population and appreciation of the white-tailed deer. In a table rating 1-10 the "Quantifying Risks" to deer, he included under "Intolerance" a rating of nine.
"My neighbors hate deer," McKean wrote. "The whitetail's stature has declined from nobility to nuisance, especially among farmers and subdivision residents."
His solution to the problem was to institute regulated hunting to manage nuisance deer.
Certainly there are city residents against hunting of any kind within the city limits or around their neighborhoods. However, it seems the tide of prudent deer management in affected municipal areas is beginning to roll in.
Oxford's Deer Management Plan
In the opening paragraphs of the City of Oxford's Deer Management Plan is this statement: "Hunting within the boundaries of the City of Oxford is a privilege granted by the City of Oxford Mayor and Board of Aldermen. City of Oxford Controlled Hunts will be authorized under an Animal Control Permit issued by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks."
More details are available at www.oxfordms.net under Deer Management.
This demonstrates that some communities are attempting to deal with too many deer in town by permitting hunts, even though it may be a tightly regulated event with applications, permits and fees.
Some in Oxford say the process is too cumbersome and too expensive, requiring a $20 application/test fee and an $80 permit fee. Hunting also is archery only.
Hunters have to pass written and shooting tests, and there are over 40 rules and regulations to follow from the application to the permit to hunt an assigned area.
Success in your own backyard
One of the best examples of successfully hunting within the city limits of a town comes from Larry Oberhousen living in Raymond.
Larry operated a small business right on the outer stretches of town, but on a main thoroughfare. However, right behind the shop was a large hay field backed by a huge hardwood forest.
"I used to stand outside the back door of my business in the parking lot and watch deer easing along the edge of the woods. That was not 200 yards from where I stood," Oberhousen said. "Nobody hunted that piece of woods, so I got permission from the owner to check it out.
"In those days nobody said anything about folks hunting isolated areas in town. The hunters I knew were very discrete in keeping quiet about it."
Oberhousen said he was careful to minimize his hunting presence.
"I figured that, since I was within earshot of town with a couple of houses just down the road, I would use a muzzleloader instead of a high-powered rifle," he said. "I knew that deep back in the woods a single shot would not alert anyone."
He also prepared to ensure that he was concealed from non-hunters while providing maximum opportunities for success.
"For weeks before the hunting season I would hike back behind the shop into the woods to scout," Oberhousen said. "I built a sturdy wooden ladder stand and put it up right along a small drainage creek where there was old deer sign from previous years. From that stand I could not hear or see cars driving by on the highway, so I felt pretty secure about hunting the area."
Of course, he didn't advertise where he was hunting.
"The secret to my success that year was keeping quiet about hunting back there," he said. "I always paid attention to the wind and tried not to walk back to the woods through the open hay field.
"I ended up taking two nice bucks. I took one small but nice 8-point, and then a very respectable 10-point with a good spread and tall brow tines. I mounted that buck, and am still very proud of that one. It was a great hunting season right in town,"
Hunting at home can be a tricky proposition, but it has its rewards hanging on den walls or sitting on taxidermy workbenches all over the state.
Be sure to check on the rules, obtain any necessary permits, get permission, maintain a low profile and hunt in stealth mode.
You can brag later.