Posted: December 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm
By: Amit Batra, Taylor Eaton and Will Hirsch
For years, hunting has been an integral part of the West Virginia community. For hunters around Morgantown, in addition to recreation, hunting offers a way to give back to the community.
The Urban Deer Archery Hunt program in West Virginia began in 1996, and the first two cities to participate were Weirton and Wheeling. The program was created to help reduce the rapidly growing deer population in the state. In the spring of 2011, a thermal imaging study revealed that over 600 deer were living within Morgantown’s city limits (approximately 60 to 70 deer within a square mile).
The Urban Deer Archery Hunt season officially began in Morgantown Sept. 7, and lasts until Dec. 31. Ninety hunters were selected to participate in the hunt this season. All hunters in the organization have the option to donate the meat to area charities, although they are not required to do so.
In 2011, 67 hunters brought in 45 deer total. The donated venison was 400 pounds. In 2012, there were 77 permitted hunters, who brought in 118 deer total and donated 1,617 pounds of venison. Final counts of the 2013 Hunt are expected to be released around late January or early February 2014.
As the season continues, the hunters’ goals are to donate and distribute more and more meat. The Urban Deer Hunters set a goal to donate at least one ton of venison meat to shelters and food banks this year.
According to a mid-season report on the city of Morgantown’s official website, Morgantown Urban Deer Hunters brought more than 900 pounds of venison meat to local shelters in late September.
WVU professor and volunteer hunt coordinator Rick Bebout, said hunters have embraced giving back to a community in need.
Hunt organizers are hinting at the possibility of 2013 being the most productive season yet. Bebout said at the end of October, 83 deer had been taken. Out of those 83, 51 had been donated to local shelters, pantries and kitchens for a total of 935 pounds.
Steve Guthrie, the Program Coordinator of the Bartlett House, said the contributions have been a lot more in the 2013 season compared to the last two years. The citizens receiving the food are very thankful.
“Any food we have that feeds them, they’ll be more than grateful for,” he said. “We have two standing freezers and one long one. We have a large freezer storage and it’s completely full of deer meat.”
Bebout said there will probably be two more major donations before the end of the year. “The city wants to keep the donations in the city. We have the Bartlett House, the Ronald McDonald House, the church on top of Spruce Street, a community bank somewhere in Suncrest – we give all of them some meat,” he said.
Local Backwoods Taxidermy and Trapping owner Sean Teets said the company got involved with the Urban Hunting program three years ago. Teets said he is one of the only processors in the area, so he decided to extend meat-processing services to the Morgantown Urban Hunting program at a discounted rate.
“I’ve cut 112 total deer (including deer harvested in seasons other than the Urban Hunt) already,” he said. “I’ll probably hit 700-800 before the year’s done. I’m pretty proud and excited about it. It does help a lot of people. As of Nov. 15, there was one deer ahead of what they had last year,” Teets said.
Teets said processing the deer costs less than what it normally would because the city pays for the processing when the meat is being donated.
“We’re the ones that cut,” Teets said. “The city pays the whole bill on the Urban Hunt. There have been 100 something deer that have been killed for the Urban Hunt this year, and some of the guys kept the deer, so then they’ll bring them out and pay out of their own pocket.”
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Meat and Poultry Inspection Division provides constant inspection of commercial slaughter and processing facilities, periodic inspection of custom plants and has licensed about 180 meat and poultry distributors. Every commercial slaughterer, custom slaughterer, commercial processor or distributor must obtain a license from the Commissioner of Agriculture prior to operating, according to www.wvagriculture.com.
According to the West Virginia DNR website, “all participating hunters are required to have a valid base hunting license or be exempt from having to purchase a base hunting license.” In Morgantown, hunter requirements include having a valid West Virginia license, completing all parts of the hunt application, completing the Bowhunter Education Course and an archery proficiency test. There are various rules and properties hunters must abide by in the program.
Bebout said there are certain areas in town that are designated for hunting, and there have been no reports of injuries as a result of these hunts. According to the city of Morgantown’s website, there are 27 properties in the city that allow urban hunting.
West Virginia DNR District and Wildlife Biologist Steve Rauch said there were 12 other cities across the state that participated in the Urban Hunting Deer Program last year.
He said the same cities would most likely participate this year. According to Rauch, local Morgantown hunters aren’t the only ones encouraged to help out shelters.
“I think the cities encourage that — for hunters to help the hungry,” he said. “One of the issues there is that to be able to process the deer, they have to be a USDA inspected facility. That limits the number of facilities across the state. That doesn’t prohibit people donating to individuals and that kind of stuff. With getting feedback from the cities and looking at the harvest numbers, the (number of hunters) has increased every year. Part of that over the last few years is that we’ve added additional cities to that, which will increase the harvest.”
Morgantown Urban Deer Hunter and WVU student John Paul Tupta said that hunting has become a part of his life.
“I’ve probably hunted 20-25 times, even if it’s just after class for an hour or two,” Tupta said. “Anytime I get to spend out in the woods is good. I’ve only killed two (deer), and I’ve kept both of those. After these, I plan on donating the kill. It’s good for the less fortunate people. It’s good for everyone. (Hunting) is kind of a part of who I am.”
For so many West Virginians, hunting continues to be a popular way of life and culture, but in the case of the Morgantown Urban Deer Hunt, it’s a way of giving back to the community and aiding those in need.
Below is a link where you can hear John Paul Tupta’s story about his involvement with hunting in West Virginia.