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June 9, 2010 / V A Nichols

Greedy Hunters at OMSP Want More Killing

Bolton: Oak Mountain Park’s bow-only hunts to thin deer herd are not working

Published: Sunday, June 06, 2010, 11:22 AM

Michael C. Bolton

The recent announcement that Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham will open the park to bow hunters continuously from mid-November through January tells me two things. The park is still reeling from the effects of an overpopulation of deer and using bow hunters as a way to remedy the problem just isn’t getting the job done.

What the parties in charge need to do is grow some thicker skin. They need to stand up to the inevitable backlash and bring out the guns.

Nobody wants rifles being shot in Oak Mountain State Park. I don’t. The park is surrounded by neighborhoods and traffic on all sides. Shotguns are the answer for this most unpleasant of tasks. Shotgun hunts would be safe.

In an ideal world, hunting deer in one of Alabama’s state parks would never be considered. Parks should be places where visitors go to see deer. Unfortunately, the park surrounded by suburbs and busy highways has experienced an explosion of deer as often occurs when controlled hunting isn’t allowed.

The result is that the deer at Oak Mountain State Park have exceeded the carrying capacity of the land. Data from herd health checks showed malnourished deer laden with parasites and disease due to overpopulation.

Many people shudder at the thought of deer being hunted in one of Alabama’s state parks and that is understandable. But there is more to consider. Surveys conducted in 1999, 2000 and 2003 found that the presence of so many deer has had a profound effect on wildflowers, trees and shrubs in the park. As a result, the populations of small mammals and nesting birds have been affected.

Many dedicated and skilful bow hunters have taken to the park in recent years with the intention of helping to lessen the number of deer in the park. It just hasn’t worked. I have jokingly said through the years that there’s a reason that there were no fat Indians in the old cowboys-and-Indians movies. Taking a deer or anything else alive with a bow and arrow isn’t a simple task.

Poor weather was a factor in very poor harvests in the 2008 and 2009 bow hunts at the park.

Those poor harvests were a step backwards in the mission. Another year or two of such failures could erase any positive gains that the scheduled hunts have accomplished.

This fall, the park will be divided into 11 zones with each zone hosting four or five hunters. A total of 40 hunters will be chosen by the Bow Hunters of Alabama through a registration and interview process. The park will remain open to visitors during the hunts although the hunting areas will be off-limits.

The best idea would be to close the park entirely to visitors during a two-week period in the fall and open it to shotgun hunters only. There are members of the public who would surely squeal, but sometimes you have to catch a little flack to do the right thing.

Mike Bolton’s outdoors column appears on Sundays in The Birmingham News. E-mail him at mbolton@bhamnews.com.

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