Archery program seeking more hunters at McCandless

The deer management program at McCandless is looking for more bow hunters to participate in the fall.

Suburban Whitetail Management, of Wexford, offers bow hunting programs to manage deer populations in several areas of Pittsburgh’s North Hills. He has provided deer management at Franklin Park for several years and is in his second year for Ross Township, according to Luke Leonard, who owns and operates Suburban Whitetail Management with Michael Clinebell.

The Township of McCandless first used the business in the fall of 2021, according to a presentation by Leonard to the township council on March 14. Nineteen deer were shot.

Bow deer hunting season in Pennsylvania runs from September through late January, Leonard said.

SWM’s program, dedicated solely to archery whitetail deer hunting, sometimes takes a few seasons to start seeing results, Leonard said. Overall, McCandless’ first season “did pretty well,” he said.

“We hope to provide residents in need, with an overwhelming and high deer population in their area, some relief in the near future using trained hunters as well as safety first,” Leonard said.

Some areas of the North Hills have been reported to have an overpopulation of deer.

“These animals are prolific and adaptable,” the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Jeannine Fleegle said in an online presentation to McCandless in 2021.

A female deer can raise at least one deer each year and breed for about 10 years.

There are no natural predators in the area for deer, she said.

“If deer aren’t harvested in Pennsylvania, there’s not much else that’s going to kill them.”

Deer can be a safety concern for motorists. They can also carry diseases and ticks, which can infect humans with Lyme disease.

Fleegle said there is a long list of things a deer will eat causing heavy damage to local landscapes and natural habitat.

McCandless passed an ordinance last year banning deer feeding, with fines of up to $500. Franklin Park also has a deer feeding ordinance with possible fines of at least $100 to no more than $1,000.

Leonard said that although Ross is only in his second year of deer harvesting, the program is working because there are fewer deer to hunt.

Franklin Park, which has been part of the program for several years, is seeing fewer deer, he said. So much so that only one hunter is needed for the 80 acres of Blueberry Hill Park. Comparatively, in an area with high deer volume, one hunter is used per 10 acres, Clinebell said.

Suburban Whitetail Management must follow the rules of the State Game Commission. The company’s harvesting services are free to the owner or township. It is funded by fees paid by participating hunters.

Hunters contact the company and ask to participate. In Allegheny County, every hunter must purchase a tag to kill a deer. In Allegheny County, a hunter is allowed multiple doe or female tags, but only one buck or buck tag per season, Leonard said.

Suburban Wildlife Management requires a hunter to give every first and third tag to the Hunters Sharing Harvest program. Last year, 23 deer were donated through the program, which equates to 4,000 meals, Leonard said.

The company can access all land owned by McCandless, including parks, public and vacant land.

It can be contacted by a private owner, whether residential or commercial, but not all private properties are suitable for hunting. Harvesting cannot be done within 50 feet of a neighboring structure unless written permission from that neighbor is obtained.

A minimum of 3 acres in total is suitable property, Leonard said.

If all residents provide written approval for a certain street or area, then it becomes more accessible for hunting, Leonard said. The company notifies residents when a hunt is planned. Hunters use marked arrows, keep hunting logs, remove marked deer, and remove any field dressing. They will hunt from an elevated platform unless otherwise permitted.

McCandless Planning Commission member Dan Kortum commented on the need for more hunting on private properties.

“When deer are well protected and well fed, they don’t roam. They get everything they need from my property and my neighbor’s property,” Kortum said.

“Unless we get private property (to hunt), we chase our tail,” he said.

Suburban Whitetail Management does not hunt on school property. The state requires hunters to be at least 150 yards from a school.

The first year a community enters the program, the company tries to establish a baseline of the number of deer in an area and the number of hunters needed. The company currently has 15 hunters at McCandless. However, around half of them logged in within zero hours, so the company is looking for others to take their place.

“In a program where we need to see progress, we need to move on,” McCandless’ Leonard said.

“McCandless and Me”, an online engagement platform for its residents, contains information about the program and how to apply. It lists a monthly status of the hunting program, Councilor Kim Zachary said.

The company is looking to recruit more hunters before next season. The Township of Ross recently did social media outreach on its program, and Suburban Whitetail Management received 20 inquiries afterward, Leonard said.

Hunters who live in a hunted community have priority in that community. Hunters are interviewed and must pass a mandatory archery proficiency test. Hunters will have a permission slip to be on a property and a parking pass, and they will hunt an assigned property for the entire season.

They check all properties for security risks.

For more information, contact [email protected]

Natalie Beneviat is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Earnest A. Martinez