published Saturday, October 6th, 2012

No fight this year over deer hunt at Enterprise South Nature Park

A buck makes his way over a ridge in the heart of Enterprise South Nature Park.
A buck makes his way over a ridge in the heart of Enterprise South Nature Park.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • photo
    A fawn and doe wander along the southern boundary of Enterprise South Nature Park. Officials allow alimited number of hunters access to the park during two weekends in October to hunt deer and turkey.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Before light creeps over Enterprise South Nature Park early Monday morning, hunters will have their bows in hand.

They have been ready since this summer, when hundreds of Tennesseans applied to participate in the decades-old annual deer hunt.

And this year, no one is trying to keep their arrows from flying.

The 2011 fall deer hunt at Enterprise South was hotly protested by people opposed to does and bucks being killed in the new nature park. But this year, the lawyer who represented that group said she will not be involved in any action to prevent the hunts.

"I do not plan to participate in any public protest of the deer hunt on Monday," Diane Dixon wrote in an email. She did not give her reasons.

Deer have always lived at Enterprise South. The hunts -- which officials say help curb overpopulation -- have been held since the late 1970s on what was then the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant.

But when Volkswagen developed the land and Chattanooga and Hamilton County created a 2,800-acre nature park there, residents began asking whether hunting at the recreational site was still appropriate.

A Hamilton County woman filed for a restraining order in 2011 in an attempt to keep the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency from holding a hunt. She said the agency had not firmly determined how many animals, if any, needed to be harvested to manage the population. Her restraining order was denied.

This year has been much quieter, officials say.

"I guess these folks are still opposed to it, but no one has called or sent any emails to our office this year," said Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry. "It went real smooth last year. I think our case was pretty well demonstrated. It was a way to thin the population out and prevent more car-and-deer collisions."

Brian Layton, a game biologist for the TWRA, said the Enterprise South deer population is on the verge of surpassing what the park's ecosystem can support.

Earlier this year, TWRA specialists used thermal imaging and other methods to estimate a population of about 44 deer per square mile in the 4.4-square-mile park. The actual range, Layton warned, could be anywhere from 22 to 91 per square mile -- and the upper number is more than the wooded area can sustain.

"There's really no viable nonkill option for thinning the herd," said Layton. He said birth control options are typically expensive and labor-intensive.

As in previous years, there will be two hunts on the property. But this year they will look different. Monday's and Tuesday's hunts will be limited to archery, with 80 hunters selected in a drawing.

But the hunt on Oct. 22-23 will be Hunts for Warriors, held for 25 military veterans selected from the Fort Campbell, Ky., area who have been wounded in service. Those hunters will be allowed to use shotguns.

The TWRA also changed its bagging rules for both hunts. Instead of having to bag a doe before shooting an antlered buck, hunters can shoot whichever deer they see first.

"We'll see what that does to our overall harvest and we'll make adjustments if we need to next year," said Layton.

He and other TWRA officials will be at the hunt to weigh the deer and collect biological information from them.

The recommendation whether to hold the hunts must be made on a year-by-year basis, Layton said, and the hunts will continue only if the area continues to be overpopulated.

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