In suburbia, on alert for a deer rifle

June 06, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

HERE'S A word you probably don't want to hear if you live in suburbia and have a deer problem and county officials are kicking around ways to control that deer problem: sharpshooters.

Is it me?

Am I being too squeamish here?

Sharpshooters?

To control the deer in Baltimore County?

Look, I live in Baltimore County. And I live in a neighborhood where the deer problem ranges from Mild Nuisance to Deer Summer Jam 2005, depending on the time of year.

You talk about brazen - our deer will practically come up and shake your hand and introduce themselves.

They're so unconcerned about humans they might as well bring along lounge chairs and little Igloo coolers when they show up to ravage our gardens.

But ... sharpshooters?

Yet there it was in a Sun story the other day by Laura Barnhardt: Community groups are circulating a petition asking the county to implement a "comprehensive managed hunt or sharpshooter program."

OK, when we say "sharpshooter program," what exactly are we talking about here?

Hard-looking guys on rooftops squinting into sniper scopes and whispering to each other on headsets as dusk approaches and the deer start feeding?

Alpha One, this is Bravo One. Subjects approaching back yard at 1515 Running Brook Way ...

Roger, Bravo One. There's a guy mowing his lawn nearby and a family enjoying a cookout in the next yard. but we might be able to get off a clean shot.

Hoo, boy.

Is that where we're going with this sharpshooter thing?

Hot lead ricocheting off patio furniture in densely populated subdivisions as herds of latter-day Bambi's flee in terror?

Fortunately, the answer is no, according to Paul Peditto, director of Wildlife and Heritage for the state Department of Natural Resources.

"Sharpshooter is probably the wrong phrase, because the connotation is scary," he said over the phone the other day.

Oh, you betcha.

Peditto explained that any "sharpshooters" brought in to help alleviate the deer problem would be highly trained professional marksmen, people who have demonstrated shooting proficiency and passed a DNR written exam for this sort of work.

To tell you the truth, this did not make me feel a whole lot better, since even crack marksmen have been known to mistake, say, an Irish setter for a deer on occasion - especially in a certain light.

Why, in a certain light, a pale, doughy newspaper columnist leaning over his backyard barbecue grill might even be mistaken for a deer, drawing a burst of fire before he scurries inside with a platter of undercooked burgers and hotdogs.

But then Peditto said such "sharpshooters" are used mostly to thin the deer population in open, sparsely settled spaces.

In more densely populated subdivisions - like the one I live in - the deer-culling strategy would lean to the "comprehensive managed hunt."

Luckily, as Peditto explained it, this does not mean bands of rifle-toting fat guys in orange vests roaming through a neighborhood, blasting away at anything that moves.

No, it means sending the rifle-toting fat guys in orange vests to the wooded areas outside the neighborhood where you think the deer are originating - and letting 'em blast away there.

"If you have a higher density of human population," said Peditto, "what you try to identify is the large open space serving as the `bucket' that the deer are dumped out of into the residential areas."

In the case of my neighborhood, for instance, the "bucket" is the wooded area around Loch Raven Reservoir, which is sort of like the Ocean City for deer in our area.

Anyway, I'm sure glad Peditto cleared up this whole sharpshooter business, because it was making me nervous. And it was bound to have an effect on my grilling.

How can you concentrate on burgers when you keep scanning the tree line for the glint of a rifle barrel?

But the problem of deer descending on suburban neighborhoods and using our gardens as their personal all-u-can-eat buffet won't go away unless we take some kind of drastic action.

"The deer have become their own worst enemies, because they're so adaptive and prolific," Peditto said. "We've replaced corn, soybeans and wheat with hosta, azaleas and rhododendrons, and the deer do as well with that landscape as they did with the [other] one."

Great.

I've got all three in my yard.

It'll be like their own private salad bar out there.

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