City Council Approves Archery Deer Hunt

The Hillsdale City Council unanimously approved a measure at Monday night's meeting to hold a limited archery deer hunt within the city limits this year.  This is the same in-season hunt that has been held in previous years dating back to 2010, which Hillsdale Police Chief Scott Hephner reminded the council is not the same thing as the state-operated deer cull.

“The cull was something that’s a special hunt that we have to have permission from the DNR [Michigan Department of Natural Resources] to do, and there’s a lot of requirements to that; there’s a lot of expense to the city for that.  All we’re doing is opening up the state’s normal archery hunt to occur inside the city limits.”

Hephner went on to explain that the requirements for the city's archery hunt are the same as the state archery hunt with regard to the requirement to purchase a state license and follow the state’s rules and guidelines.  The city adds a lottery to the process, and as per state law, hunting must take place outside a 450-foot radius of any dwelling.

“That really limits, in the city, where those zones are, so we provide maps to [the hunters] so they know exactly where those zones are located,” Hephner said.

However, that does not mean that hunting is strictly limited to city-designated areas.

“We also get a lot of requests from private property owners about the deer,” Hephner said, “and with permission and within state guidelines, [hunters] can hunt on private property within that footage as long as they have permission from the property owner.”

Hephner said that 15 permits were issued in the lottery last year with 7 additional permits given specifically to hunt on private property, and 24 deer were harvested.  This year’s numbers are expected to drop, though, as a prime portion of land between Barber Drive and Mauck Road has reverted to Hillsdale Township and is no longer eligible for the city-designated hunt.

Councilperson Adam Stockford asked about the mechanism of the lottery, saying that he has received calls from people who weren’t chosen, and Hephner explained the process.

“Once they make out the application, we do the basic criminal history [background check] that any citizen can do.  By our rules that we set in the city, if they’ve got any DNR violations or they are a convicted felon, they’re disqualified.  With the applicants we have left, we put their name on a tab and turn them over, and we pull the first 15 out.  That’s how we did it last year.  The rest of them were offered that they could have a private property permit only, but they wouldn’t be able to hunt on the city property in those zones.”

Councilman Matt Bell asked if the number of tags that the city could issue was limited by the state, and Hephner replied that it was the city’s call to make.

“The DNR does not control this, we’re just opening up the city limits for bow hunters to hunt here.  It’s subjective, very much so, but it’s based on how much area we actually have [on which] they can hunt.  We lost a good chunk of that in that one region.”

“So it’s more safety concerns than trying to get as many deer as we can?” Bell asked.

“We take input from the hunters,” Hephner added, “we have some of the same ones year after year, and it can get crowded in certain areas, so because we have done it for a number of years now, we know relatively what we’re going to have problems in.  We can adjust for numbers that way.  But it is subjective.”

Councilperson Bruce Sharp noted that “Definitely deer are a problem in the City of Hillsdale.  Just ask any lady that has hostas; they’re being attacked.”

“They were here first,” Hephner jokingly defended the deer.

“Yeah, well, they’re here in numbers now,” Sharp continued, “and obviously there’s a lot of people who say, ‘I don’t see an improvement on the deer population going down.’  Well, it’s like you said: there are certain areas you can hunt and certain areas you cannot hunt on.”

“I definitely think we need to continue this bow hunt, and I hope they can get more than 24 this year,” Sharp added.

“It is a minimal harvest,” Hephner agreed.  “Last year, before I brought this to council, I did a lot of research on car-deer accidents, and I backed that up a number of years to see if the trend was that those were reduced by the cull hunts and our bow hunts.  The first cull took 105 or 120 deer out of the city limits.  The second one, if I remember right, was reduced to maybe 60 or 70.  [There was] a lot of expense to the city on those, and frankly, the very next year, after both of those, we were right back up at the exact same number of car-deer accidents.  So we’re holding that tight in check.  I mean, we’re not seeing that increase from [not] having these [cull] hunts; we’re not seeing a greater reduction in car-deer accidents, either.”

Councilperson Tim Dixon asked how the cull differed, and Hephner explained that the state had more control over the process.

“That hunt usually was in January or February, so it was outside the normal hunting seasons.  [The DNR] had input in the hunters selected.  We had to purchase bait, and they had to hunt over bait piles; they could hunt in elevated stands, they could use center-fired rifles, they could hunt later into the evening, I think, using artificial lights, and the state gave them the permit.  I think we also had to incur the processing fees, because hunters weren’t allowed to keep the animal, we had to make arrangements with a processor.  We’d make a deal or a contract, if you will, on what they would charge us per animal; we had to cover that cost, then all of the processed meat went to food banks.  But they were required to shoot every deer that they could locate, and there was a lot of tracking."

“The research for that was done by the state.  So there were more deer taken, but within one year – like I said, I just tracked it by car-deer accidents – and then what you’d see is an influx of deer that are overcrowded [in areas] neighboring the city kind of move in.  So we would really have to sustain a cull hunt, but that’s an added expense.  I believe the one year, we did get a grant from the Community Foundation to cover a decent portion of the city’s expenses.”

Hephner said the additional cost to the city for a cull hunt was around $3,000.  Those expenses are not incurred by the archery deer hunt.

For more information on the archery deer hunt, contact the Hillsdale Police Department at (517) 437-6460.