A sharpshooting program to help reduce the deer population in Peters Township is on track to start in February.
The one-year pilot program received approval from township council during its final meeting of 2021, by a 4-3 vote. Opposing were Frank Arcuri, Monica Merrell and Gary Stiegel Jr.
“The township has engaged in an archery program to cull deer since 2008, and that program, alone, has not effectively controlled the deer population. To me, the logical next step is the sharpshooter program,” township manager Paul Lauer said in recommending the measure.
Conducting the program will be two members of the police department, Sgt. Jason Brunetti and Officer James Stevick. Both have been contracted by Mt. Lebanon to perform the same type of service.
“That they can safely and effectively perform this service in such a densely populated area as Mt. Lebanon without incident is significant,” Douglas Grimes, Peters police chief, wrote in a June memo to Lauer outlining his proposal for a sharpshooting program.
In September, council authorized Grimes to file a permit application for the program with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, another 4-3 vote with the same members in opposition. The commission approved the permit in December.
The program’s stated purpose is to decrease the number of deer-vehicle collisions in the township.
At a Dec. 13 public hearing held by council, Brunetti said that 91 accidents with “evidence of a deer being involved” were reported in 2020. The number had sunk as low as 40 in 2012, down from 74 prior to the launch of the archery cull.
The 2021-22 statewide archery deer season resumed Dec. 27 and continues through Jan. 17. Peters’ sharpshooting cull is scheduled to take place in February and March.
“The way the program would be structured would be to use bait at specific locations that are determined to be safe locations for the use of firearms,” Grimes said during the public hearing. “We’d take the deer quickly and humanely with the rifles.”
Brunetti explained that sharpshooting is intended to take place near areas with larger concentrations of deer-vehicle accidents, such as on Route 19, East McMurray Road and Valley Brook road. Shooting will take place from elevated positions against solid backdrops on properties where owners grant permission.
“Everyone will be aware in the immediate area,” Brunetti said, “and we utilize the bait to bring the deer to where we want them, to the safest locations.”
The Game Commission permit allows for a total of 100 to 125 deer to be taken.
“Personally, I’d be happy to see at least 70 in the program,” Grimes said. “I would consider that a success.”
Archery kills generally have numbered between 50 and 60 annually in recent years, contributing to the opinion expressed in Grimes’ memo that the “program has not achieved the desired result of a significant reduction in deer-car collisions and reduction of property/crop damages.”
The program is open to archers who apply through the police department, and includes background checks and a requirement for bowhunter safety courses.
“It’s becoming an issue of viable hunting properties,” Brunetti said about the program’s effectiveness. “It’s not an issue, necessarily, of the amount of hunters we have.”
With regard to the sharpshooting program, plans call for Brunetti and Stevick to perform the function while on duty, with expenses primarily for bait and processing the deer. The meat goes to the statewide Hunters Sharing the Harvest venison donation program, which distributes to food banks and other charitable organizations.
The program’s annual cost is estimated at $21,000, according to information provided at council’s Sept. 13 meeting.