When the Elizabeth Board of Trustees approved a proposal to allow a deer hunt within the city limits, it created some confusion and enough controversy to draw at least one Denver news station to town last summer. The board's approval of the hunting program on July 8 came in response to increased complaints about conflicts with residential deer.
The program approved by the board did not create a special hunting season, but it did remove a restriction prohibiting the discharge of bows within designated areas inside the city limits and allowed a select number of bow hunters to hunt on city property, provided they were willing to submit to the town's stringent requirements designed in conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
As with any private property owner within Elbert County, the Town of Elizabeth may grant permission for hunters to use its property for hunting. The three areas chosen are adjacent to public works sites or surrounded by private property. None of the areas is open to the public.
Casey Westbrook, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, has been studying the conflict for years and has been working closely with the Town of Elizabeth. His counts have put the estimated deer inside the town limits on any given day at 100, and he and his team have counted as many as 137.
“The goal is not to obliterate the (deer) population,” Westbrook said, “but to control the population and modify animal behavior.”
To qualify for the program, all applicants were required to meet the basic bow-hunting prerequisites for Colorado, to hold a bow-hunter education card and to have been previously licensed to hunt in Colorado. In addition, no one with a big-game hunting violation in the state within the past five years, or who has been suspended from hunting in Colorado, was eligible.
Each applicant competed for slots by demonstrating their expertise with a bow having a minimum draw weight of 60 pounds (45 pounds is the minimum required by the state) and, as cited in the proposal, placing “four out of five arrows in a three inch diameter circle on a target placed at random from 15 to 30 yards away.”
Candidates were also required to show their ability to meet physical requirements by loading a 100-pound sack into a wheelbarrow and pushing it 100 yards. Out of the 18 applicants, eight met the basic requirements, but only five were chosen.
“We capped it at five, because five was a more manageable number,” said Dick Eason, Elizabeth town administrator.
Both Eason and Westbrook also suggest that other intangibles, such as attitudes aligned with the program's goals, played a part in the selection process, but Westbrook added that it was fortuitous that the five top scorers also possessed the type of attitude they were hoping for.
The five participating hunters are each allowed six arrows and must account for each arrow, which are numbered from one to six, color-coded and marked with an identification number corresponding to each participant. Any hunter who loses an arrow or fails to perform a proper kill shot will be re-evaluated and subject to disqualification from the hunt.
Prior to a hunt, each participant must reserve an available time for one of the designated areas and keep an open line of communication with the program manager by texting in and out of the hunt as well as within 20 minutes of taking a shot.
Eason also assured that the volunteer hunters must comply with existing state regulations, and baiting, spotlighting or night hunting of any kind is illegal in Colorado and will not be permitted while hunting on town property.
Eason refers to the five selectees as volunteers, because in addition to giving their time, each hunter is responsible for paying for three of their own resident List C Licenses, the tag required for hunting “antlerless deer,” (does or bucks with antlers measuring five inches or less) in Game Management Unit 104.
In addition, all the meat obtained from the hunt is being donated directly to needy families or sent to a USDA-approved meat processor and distributed to participating food banks willing to pay the processing cost.
“No taxpayer money is being used pay for this this program,” Eason said.
A maximum of 15 deer may be killed as part of this year's hunt, but both Eason and Westbrook agree that the success of the program is not contingent on tagging the maximum. Other factors, such as the safety of the hunts, any incidents, and the success of the meat distribution will all be considered.
To date there have been no incidents stemming from this year's hunt, and though neither Westbrook nor Eason was willing to release the number of animals taken so far, they did confirm that the program is on track to meet the maximum of 15 by the end of December.
At that time, they will present the results to the board of trustees, and it will be for them to decide whether to reinstitute the program next fall.