Years of complaints from residents about car-deer collisions, stripped landscaping and even deer sleeping on patios compelled Oxford officials to consult with federal and state wildlife biologists. They held public hearings, where those residents who wanted deer numbers reduced, lethally or otherwise, vastly outnumbered those who asked that the deer be left alone.
After considering potential remedies from live capture and anti-fertility drugs to snipers using sound-suppressed rifles and night vision equipment, city officials authorized nearly 30 experienced bowhunters, many of whom are city employees, for a four-month bow hunt throughout the 2010-11 deer season. Hunters were assigned only where landowners had requested them.
"Everything went really well last year," said Jimmy Allgood, Oxford emergency management coordinator and the city's designated "deer guy." "We brought the deer population down and made the rest of the herd healthier."
This year, 32 hunters are enrolled in the program. They take both written and field proficiency tests, accept an assigned hunting area, donate all the harvested venison to a local food charity and even pay the cost of professionally processing the meat.
"The harvest is going to be up this year. We've already taken as many this year as we took all last season," Allgood said. "We've made our first delivery to The Pantry."
Last year, 109 deer were killed inside the city, but hunters accounted for only 44 of those, Allgood said, adding that most of the rest died after colliding with cars.
During the eight months when deer hunting isn't legal, Allgood and wildlife biologists make "windshield surveys" to get a grasp on how herd numbers and conditions have been affected by removing some animals.
"Overall, we think the program is doing what it was designed to do," he said. "It's letting us manage the deer population to where we have a healthier herd."
Given that the antlered animals that used to be a rarity are now such a nuisance, Oxford officials are looking at a long-term approach to their herd management.
"It's going to take three to five years to get the population where it needs to be," Allgood said, "but we're getting a handle on it."