Suburban And Urban Deer Control With Air Rifles? Why Not?
July 10, 2013
So there’s a New York Times piece floating throughout the Blogosphere right now, about the tiny, New York town of Hastings-on-Hudson and their battle with the overwhelming deer population. With multiple deer/vehicle collisions, destruction of the understory of parks and woodlands, an upsurge of lyme disease, and complaints from homeowners, the small-town mayor had to make a decision. The choice… to partner with Tufts University and explore a new immunocontraception drug.
The problem of suburban deer isn’t a new one, particularly in the east. Whitetail deer are particularly adaptable to the proximity of human habitation, especially when there is no threat from the human “neighbors”. Without hunting or any other type of predation to control their numbers, the deer capitalize on prime browsing of backyard (and front) gardens and the availability of suburban parklands. I recently reviewed Jim Sterba’s book, Nature Wars, which provides some intriguing insight into this issue.
Solutions to the issue vary widely, and are often driven by the demographic of the area in question. The most successful approach so far has been the use of professional sharpshooters to cull overgrown herds. However, in more politically liberal areas, lethal options always seem to be a very last resort. Hastings-on-Hudson fits this profile, hence the decision to try contraception instead of killing. The approach is not particularly novel. Several municipalities have tried it, although the only apparent success to date has been in island habitats where the populations are geographically isolated. Nevertheless, the researchers at Tufts have continued to develop their solution and there’s hope that the new immunocontraceptive will be effective.
Besides the public relations perspective, though, lethal means of control in suburban areas definitely have their drawbacks.
First, and most problematic is the suggestion that the deer be trapped (netted) and despatched by means of a captive bolt gun. While there’s a certain efficiency in this approach, the sheer (apparent) cold-bloodedness of some guy walking through a net of flailing deer and quietly bolting each animal will simply not fly with the general public… and the outcry by animal welfare organizations will make the whole thing quite unappealing to municipal officials whose careers rely on the good will of voters.
Managed shooting is also a challenging option in the suburban/urban areas. While some municipalities have enlisted the assistance of sharpshooters (volunteer and professional), the use of firearms in a heavily populated environment is fraught with problems… from the noise of gunfire to the risk of stray bullets. There’s simply too much fear of guns among the general populace… again, this is most pronounced in politically liberal areas… but even folks who tolerate guns and hunting often have issues when the shooting is taking place right outside their bedroom windows.
Archery is a good alternative to firearms. Bows are quiet. Arrows tend to travel a relatively short distance after release, especially when the shooting is done from an elevated position. The problem with archery, though, is that it doesn’t usually result in an instant fatality. Even well-hit deer can travel a significant distance before expiring. This means there’s a risk that some suburbanite will wake in the morning with a deer bleeding out in his driveway, or the kids will run out to play and find “Bambi” stretched out under the swingset. As you might imagine, a couple of these incidents can quickly turn public opinion against the archery solution.
But I think there’s another option that I think is missing here… air guns.
I’m not talking about the kid stuff here… Red Ryders and Crossman Powerlines. But there are a variety of air rifles on the market that would prove more than capable of close-range deer culling. They’re quiet. They’re accurate. They have limited range, as air gun projectiles tend to shed energy rapidly. In all respects, they seem perfectly suited for this job.
One example, possibly on the lower end of the spectrum, is the Benjamin Marauder in .25 caliber. At 25 yards or so, this rifle delivers a solid thump with a hunting pellet. The shrouded, baffled barrel makes this rifle extremely quiet, and it’s capable of very precise accuracy. A skilled sharpshooter could easily make headshots on deer-sized targets which would result in instant kills (and no deer thrashing out their last in some homeowner’s flower bed).
If the .25 is considered too small, there’s also the Benjamin Rogue, which comes in .357 caliber. This rifle is definitely powerful enough at 20 to 40 yards to cleanly kill whitetail deer, and accurate enough to do so with headshots. It is also designed to be relatively quiet, so it can be used in proximity to homes.
There are any number of other air guns out there that would do fine work on deer-sized game, ranging from .38 to .54 caliber. Some of them are pretty loud, but they are still safer in the suburban/urban environment than firearms.
So why aren’t air rifles being proposed as a valid option in suburban/urban deer control situations? I’d love to hear any insight from folks who’ve been involved in these discussions.