Oxford deer hunt sparks debate

OXFORD – The announced effort to thin Oxford’s urban deer population has raised emotional reactions on both sides.
The city has secured a permit from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks that allows about 20 bowhunters to take out deer on city land other than parks or on any private lands whose owners give written permission.
“We’ve been working on this for a while,” said Mayor Pat Patterson, noting that his predecessor, Richard Howorth, has also looked into the program.
Patterson said that with the number of deer-vehicle crashes in Oxford, it’s only a matter of time before a human suffers serious injury, and people have had strong opinions both pro and con.
“I know it’s a very emotional issue,” he said Monday afternoon. “The calls have been far more supportive than negative, but the negative ones have been intense.”
Many residents have given permission for the hunters to set up blinds in their yards. One woman called Patterson and demanded that a hunter be sent immediately to her home.
MDWFP spokesman Mark Beason said cities usually provide neither natural predators nor the hunting pressure that rural deer face.
“What happens is you create sanctuaries for them,” he said.
On the other side, some fear that the hunting will disturb their neighborhoods’ tranquility and that careless hunters will endanger residents.
The hunters, however, are handpicked by the mayor – some of them trusted city employees – and approved by MDWFP from among bowhunters who have long experience with clean records. They must wear identifying badges while participating in the hunt.
“This doesn’t mean anyone with a bow can go out and start killing deer,” Patterson said.
Betty Gresham, who lives in the Grand Oaks subdivision, said, “It breaks my heart to see the deer killed. I know they eat a few shrubs, but I haven’t had any problems with them.”
One horrified resident suggested that instead of “cruelly killed,” the deer should be captured and relocated as though they were domestic animals.
“We do not shoot dogs with a crossbow,” she said.
Beason said even in an urban setting, deer would be extremely difficult to catch.
“I’d pay money to get to see that,” he said.
Police Chief Mike Martin said he is not taking a stand in the debate, but he said the problem is growing.
“We work a lot of wrecks involving deer. I’ve had two patrol cars involved in deer collisions in six months,” he said. “Last Thursday we had a lady driving down Sisk Avenue who was hit by a deer. It broke out the glass on the driver’s side, and she had to go to the doctor.”
While this hunt has created a new level of debate, it is not the first effort to lessen dangers posed by deer inside city limits.
“They’ve been shooting them out on the airport for years,” Patterson said.

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal