Cherokee Village residents have an important decision to make during next week's primary election -- to determine whether or not a controlled deer hunt should be allowed in the city limits to help control the deer population.
Ted Zawislak, private lands biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, spoke to the Cherokee Village City Council in November about the possibility of having an urban hunt, much like those held in Bull Shoals and Heber Springs. The hunt would be archery only.
Zawislak said if Cherokee Village is interested in allowing such a hunt, he suggested the city take the issue to the voters.
"Basically that (public vote) is the best option and gives people a voice," he said.
The purpose of the hunts is to reduce the overall deer numbers, reduce the number of deer/vehicle collisions, reduce deer damage to property and to reduce the chance of disease and die-off of the deer herd.
The first of such hunts was held in Bull Shoals Dec. 1, 2001, with 54 deer harvested. Another was held October 2002 with 37 kills.
Soon after the hunts Bull Shoals began catching some flack and sent the voters to the polls to determine if the hunts should be allowed. The public approved.
Another hunt was held September 2005 with 96 deer harvested and again in September 2007 with 111 killed.
Heber Springs also allows such hunts. The first hunt in the city took place in September 2006 with 50 deer harvested. The second hunt was September 2007 with 135 killed.
Zawislak said the hunts are typically scheduled to begin before the regular opening of archery season which begins in early October. Scheduling the hunts in such a manner gains more interest from hunters, he said. If approved by voters, the soonest a hunt could take place in the city is this September, he said.
There is no bag limit in such hunts, but the first deer killed by a hunter must be a doe. After the first kill any gender can be harvested. The hunters must shoot from deer stands at least 10 feet above the ground.
The hunter's tags must be displayed on their vehicles and the permit must be kept with them at all times. The permit fee is $35. The city is given a list of the hunters approved for the hunt. Police officers and AGFC officers patrol during the hunts.
Hunters must have written permission to hunt on land that is not their own. In some cases, cities have sent letters to the residents informing them of the hunt and encouraging those who would like to allow hunting on their property to contact City Hall.
There are a number of steps that must be taken, even if voters approve the measure, in order to have an urban hunt.
The first step is to identify a need for a hunt. The city then develops a wildlife committee to look into deer issues. Then the committee, mayor, AGFC and the Arkansas Bowhunters Association meet to determine the kind of hunt needed. Then an ordinance allowing archery in the city limits is adopted.
There are two options once a city reaches step two: Have the AGFC issue the city check sheets and deer tags, or go the route of having an urban archery deer hunt permit. The latter places more rules and regulations on the hunt keeping the safety of the hunters, the city's residents and the deer top priority. There are detailed lists of rules and regulations the hunters must follow.
Once a city reaches step three, a spotlight survey is conducted by AGFC biologists to determine the deer density. Deer routes are surveyed two nights with wildlife officers and city police assisting. The survey will determine a rough estimate of the deer population and determine how many hunters should be allowed to hunt.
Step four sets the season dates and finalizes the rules for the hunt. A check station is established and hunt applications are printed and distributed by the AGFC which then conducts the permit draw to determine who will be hunting. Those hunters are then notified.
The fifth step involves the Arkansas Bowhunters Association. The group assists with hunter safety eduction and the International Bowhunter Education course which must be passed before the hunter is allowed to proceed.
On the sixth step, hunters attend the hunter orientation day. The Arkansas Bowhunters Association administers a proficiency test and stresses hunter ethics. The hunters are notified of the rules and city maps and permits are issued to those who pass. All hunters must be at least 16 years of age.
Step seven involves the hunters harvesting the deer and transporting them to the check station. The city could require the first deer killed by each hunter to be donated to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry or another type of charitable food bank.
The cost of the hunt would be a minimum to the city. AGFC provides all the materials needed.
According to AGFC officials, the late spring frost that struck the state in early April 2007 killed many plants including the buds and flowers from the oak trees. Those buds and flowers develop into acorns -- the primary food source for deer. Experts say it was the latest frost experienced in North Arkansas in more than 100 years.
With their primary food source absent, deer are having to find other means of survival. While some deer are lucky enough to find those food plots and full feeders, others aren't so lucky. These deer often travel into the open to find sustenance. This traveling leads to more deer on the roadways and out in the open for hunters, experts say.