Town mulls changes to deer hunting program

FRONT ROYAL – The town needs to change to a new program if it wants to keep the deer population under control, state officials say.

Town Council heard a presentation Monday by Nelson Lafon, a deer project coordinator who works for the state. Front Royal has operated since 2011 under a deer population control permit issued by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to the local police department. The police department then issues a permit to Suburban Whitetail Management of Northern Virginia.

But the town needs to switch programs if it wants to continue efforts to control the deer population, Lafon said. As officials have explained, the Deer Population Control Program was set up for management on public property. At the time the town set up its program, the state agency allowed Front Royal to use both public and private properties because of the significant population problem challenging the town. As a result of the success of that initiative, the state agency informed the town that it needs to transition to the Urban Archery Hunting Season if Front Royal wants to continue a deer-management program that includes private property.

The town would need to send the state agency a brief letter of intent to participate should officials choose that route. Once accepted, the town would remain in the program until it chose to no longer participate.

Mayor Timothy Darr said the town would need to come up with guidelines for the program that would pertain to Front Royal.

Councilman Daryl Funk said he thought the existing program worked for the town and would hate to see it phased out. At the same time, Funk said, the town’s deer problem could grow without any program so he supported the new initiative. Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe concurred.

Under the original program, archers harvested 26 deer in March 2011 when the initiative first started. More deer were harvested in the subsequent years – 160 in 2012, 125 in 2013 and 103 in 2014. Bow hunters have harvested a high number of deer for an urban area the size of Front Royal, Lafon said. The falling number is expected in a successful, population control program, he added.

Lafon noted that the program, which allows only for the harvesting of antlerless deer by archers, is for population control and not trophy hunting. The season begins in Front Royal the first Saturday in September and ends the last Saturday in March, Lafon said.

Urban Archery Hunting Season allows seven months for hunting, Lafon said. The program allows for the hunting of antlerless deer in September. Hunters can harvest deer with antlers from October through the first Saturday in January. All cities and towns in Virginia can apply. The deadline to enroll is April 1,  so Front Royal would not be able to participate this season. The town needs only to submit a letter of intent to participate.

The program allows flexibility on the local level with regards to safety and ordinances.

Urban Archery Deer Season has been effective in participating localities, Lafon said, citing a survey and interviews conducted in 2013. In its 13 years of existence, the state has had no safety incidents occur during Urban Archery Season, Lafon said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com