Click here to see a map of urban deer hunting sites in Charleston.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston's annual urban deer hunt is barely under way, but bow hunters have already killed 20 deer, City Manager David Molgaard said.
That's equals the number that hunters killed -- or "harvested," as Molgaard likes to say -- in 2006, the first full season of the city deer hunt. Even better, all but one were fertile females.
Then again, only 35 hunters registered in 2006. More than 100 each year have taken to the tree stands ever since.
Following some initial tweaking of the rules -- cutting registration fees and the minimum tract size for hunting -- and a major increase in bag limits in 2009, management of the annual hunt has become just another job for Molgaard and his assistant, Caroline Keeney.
"Routine," he said. "Caroline does a very nice job of being organized."
Hunting rules and registration forms are posted each year on the city's website at cityofcharleston.org/residents-0.
Then in August, a few weeks before the season opens, Keeney starts taking applications from hunters and property owners.
Folks who open their property for hunting tend to be the same from year to year, in part because of the 5-acre minimum size. Of the 19 sites registered this year, for example, all but one registered last year, too. Keeney sent reminders and short renewal forms to all previously registered owners last month.
The sites are concentrated in two general areas -- the West Side and South Hills/Loudon Heights -- with a handful of tracts in other neighborhoods.
Two of the largest sites -- Cato Park and an 80-acre tract off Pacific Street -- are owned by the city. The Cato site includes the woods above the Cato golf course and a large wooded tract on the Garrison Avenue side of the Edgewood hill, behind the swimming pool.
The number of registered hunters -- 106 so far -- is down from 136 last year, way down from the peak of 184 in 2009 and the lowest of any year since 2006.
"We could still have people come in, obviously," Molgaard said. "We haven't shut off applications."
Prospective hunters must first get permission from a landowner, however, and that could prove tricky. Nearly all the owners listed on the city website say they're not accepting new hunters.
"The [hunting] permits are site-specific," Molgaard said. "It's not just a general permit that can be used anywhere.
"We have already closed off permissions to hunt Cato and Pacific Street, the two city-owned properties." Keeney signed up 25 for Cato and 27 for Pacific Street, he said. "It's pretty much first come, first served.
"I have to remind people every year: The purpose is not for sport, it's to eradicate a nuisance."
Whether it's working is a matter of speculation. The deer kill has been rising steadily: 20 in 2006; 28 in 2007; 36 in 2008.
The numbers began to soar in 2009, after City Attorney Paul Ellis worked out a deal with state wildlife officials to raise the individual bag limit to seven, if they kill a doe first and at least five are female. Hunters killed 54 that year, 61 in 2010 and 93 last year.
The goal of the higher bag limit is to kill more females, each of whom typically give birth to two fawns a year, and thus have a bigger impact on the deer herd.
George Daniels, for one, thinks the hunt is working. He's opened up his property off Overbrook Road to hunting every year since the start, with six to eight deer kills each year.
"We were kind of involved in getting it started," Daniels said Thursday.
"I believe, from what I hear from other owners, some areas still have a heckuva lot of deer but, for some reason, we're not getting the traffic over here," he said. "I'd say we've seen about half of the deer load here in this 10 acres."
That doesn't mean deer aren't getting into his hostas and daylilies, especially after the June 29 storm damaged his fences, but his deer cameras are picking up fewer deer, Daniels said.
"I think [the hunt] has reduced, because we have not seen throughout the year the large groups we used to see. Six was not uncommon in previous years," he said.
Reach Jim Balow at ba...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.