The Business of Backyard Bowhunting

The Business of Backyard Bowhunting

Relying on sound planning, bowhunters once again prove their ability to manage urban deer.

By definition, wildlife management consists of three primary components: 1) wild- life populations, 2) habitat types, and 3) people management. The interaction of these three elements determines the success of any wildlife project. Whether managing deer in the big woods or backyards, wildlife biologists generally are very knowledgeable on animal populations and habitat, but often they fail on people management.

That's where a group of bowhunters called Eccologix from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, have found their niche. Located north of Philadelphia, in Upper Makefield Township (UMT), Eccologix turned a conflict of too many deer into a bowhunting opportunity. As in many urban areas, the problem of too many deer was only getting worse in UMT. Some councilmen on the UMT board suggested sharpshooters, while others voiced their opposition to firearms in an urban area.

Paid to Hunt
After considerable debate, UMT declined the sharpshooting option, which would have cost an estimated $125,000, and hired Eccologix instead. The UMT decision was based primarily on the fact that bowhunting is less intrusive, less expensive at $48,000, potentially more efficient in limited "backyard" areas, and more community-oriented.

And, yes, Eccologix would get paid to promote bowhunting as a management tool.

Eccologix covered its hunt managers' expenses to organize and coordinate landowners with their hunters. This accountability between the hunters, Eccologix managers, and UMT is most likely the first time anything like this has been attempted in this country.

One year after Upper Makefield Township hired Eccologix bowhunters to reduce deer populations, deer harvest in the UMT exploded. It's clear that well-organized bowhunters, who prove themselves proficient and professional through rigorous screening and testing, offer a sound alternative for reducing urban deer numbers.

With the go ahead from UMT, a group of 300 bowhunters applied to take part on the Eccologix team. This group was then narrowed down to 90 bowhunters who actually received interviews. Out of those, 25 were put on an active roster, and an additional 20 were placed on backup status.

The Eccologix hunters, who had decades of experience among them, had to pass a rigorous proficiency test and criminal background check, complete the National Bowhunter Education Foundation's (www.nbef.org) safety course, and uphold the SURE (Sincere, Unselfish, Responsible, Ethical) requirements. This group essentially put personal goals aside to demonstrate that bowhunting can be a viable wildlife management tool.

All hunters were required to record the hours they hunted, plus the number of bucks, does, fawns, and unidentified deer they saw while on stand. They also had to remove the lower jawbone and record the weight of every deer they shot. Collecting such biological data is time consuming, but it is essential to establish baseline data on the condition of the deer herd before and after Eccologix hunters came on board. From a biological viewpoint, these data are priceless. Once again, the Eccologix hunters were fulfilling their SURE requirements to UMT.

In 2008, Eccologix bowhunters killed nearly 450 deer. It seems reasonable to assume that the largest properties would have been the most productive, but such is not the case. In fact, as this graph shows, the smallest properties produced the most deer bagged per acre.

Managers are the Key
The amount of time Eccologix managers put into this program is almost endless. Because of the huge time commitment, managers must be paid for a long-term project. This is important because this is where many urban deer programs fail. Without a financial incentive for managers, the volunteers start to dwindle, nepotism surfaces, and hunters begin to lose their commitment.

The Eccologix program is not a hunting club; it is a business that has goals and management strategies that must be met. The Eccologix managers are the keys to project success. They're the conduit, the liaisons, between the hunters and the landowners, UMT, and the general public.

Hunt Results
The first year, Eccologix hunters took 443 deer. If you add the deer harvest of other hunters who formed a co-op with Eccologix, the total was 568 deer. Other hunters killed an additional 132 deer in the township, bringing the reported harvest of deer in UMT to 700 (see graph above).

This is significant because the year before, the UMT deer harvest was only 118. And what's most likely a world record, Eccologix hunters harvested deer on a 1:110, antlered-to-antlerless ratio. In most states, the ratio averages 1:1.5, so the Eccologix results are remarkable. Once again, sacrificing their desire to take bucks, Eccologix hunters fulfilled their business/management objective to reduce the deer population in UMT.

Overall, Eccologix hunters logged 5,483 hours on stand, and averaged about 12 hours for each deer tagged. That comes out to about one deer every 3.5 hunts. Eccologix hunters observed 3,487 deer and a buck-to-doe ratio of 1:3.6.

Size of Property
It's a given that most hunters want large acreages to hunt. But, how do small acreages stand up to large parcels in terms of deer harvested per acre? Eccologix split its properties into six sizes: <2 acres, 2-4 acres, 5-8 acres, 9-12 acres, 13-20 acres, and 21+ acres (see graph on page 46). As the graph shows, the smaller properties produced the most deer bagged per acre.

Baiting
Baiting always stirs some controversy, but it clearly serves as a valuable tool in urban deer-reduction hunts. Legalized in southeast Pennsylvania in 2007, baiting is allowed only in urban areas. Eccologix hunters used corn to draw deer off properties where the hunters did not have access.

Eccologix hunters fully implemented baiting during the second year of the program.

Those who used bait hunted an average of 12.1 hours for each deer harvested compared to 15.7 hours for those who did not use bait. Interestingly, these results contradict other data that show that hunters who utilize bait actually shoot fewer deer than hunters who do not use bait (see g

raph on page 48). So, after only one year of the Eccologix program, data related to baiting may be inconclusive.

Data from the first year show that baiting helped Eccologix hunters kill more deer per hour on stand.

Landowner Survey
A survey was sent to landowners asking a series of questions. This survey revealed that 89 percent of all landowners were either very satisfied with Eccologix hunters or rated them as exceptional. More than 90 percent rated the managers in the same way. The key question had to do with whether landowners would be willing to allow Eccologix hunters back on their property. Again, 95-percent said they would, testament to the fact that Eccologix hunters are fulfilling the people-management component of wildlife management.

Key Side Notes

  • Eccologix bowhunters took 40 percent (226 deer) of their total deer harvest within the first month of the program, an exceptional accomplishment. By taking these deer early, Eccologix hunters saved over 33,900 pounds of vegetation, or the equivalent of a 17-acre food plot.

  • Deer-vehicle collisions in UMT dropped from 230 to 129 in one year, a reduction of 44 percent.

  • An adjoining township elected to go with sharpshooters to reduce deer numbers. Eccologix hunters harvested three fewer deer than the sharpshooters. That's probably not a fair comparison because conditions could have varied greatly between the two scenarios. However, a telling fact is that Eccologix hunters removed a higher percentage of female deer -- 78 percent compared to less than 60 percent for the sharpshooters. The point here is not to discredit the sharpshooting option, because in all likelihood this method may be needed in the future. It's only to emphasize to townships and municipalities that bowhunters can and will manage burgeoning deer herds -- at a reasonable price.

C.J.'s Summary:
Although these results reflect only year one, Eccologix now has the biological data to prove to the UMT that bowhunting is an effective way to manage deer problems. Can bowhunters provide an effective means for managing backyard deer? You bet! But many townships have no idea who bowhunters are or what we do. By presenting and implementing a professional strategy for urban deer management, the Eccologix team has proved that managed bowhunters have what it takes to get the job done. For more information on Eccologix, call (267) 446-0191 or go to www.eccologix.com.

Recently, the Quality Deer Management Association released a community-based educational DVD entitled, "Living with White-tailed Deer." So that deer managers don't have to retell the same story in every community, this DVD helps community leaders make informed decisions about the most effective, efficient option for deer management.

The DVD covers the latest information on deer contraception, trap and release, trap and shoot, predator management, sharpshooters, and managed hunts. For more information, call 1-800-209-DEER.

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