The Sandy Springs City Council learned that municipalities cannot regulate bow hunting despite pleas from residents who complained about trespassing hunters and fears for their children and pets.
Several residents had asked City Council to enact a ban during public comment at a recent meeting. The council devoted its work session to the topic and heard more comments during its regular session on Dec. 20. Some residents said deer and coyotes are a threat to their property and families.
City Attorney Dan Lee said the Georgia Constitution prohibits local governments from regulating hunting. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state’s authority on hunting and managing wildlife.
A prohibition on the discharge of firearms has been enacted, he said.
“The state lawyers for DNR take the position that even the ordinance that limits the discharge of a firearm in the city is unconstitutional if it is applied to hunting,” Lee said.
John Bowers, a career wildlife biologist in the Wildlife Resources Division, told the council that the General Assembly extended the archery season through Jan. 31 to help reduce the growing deer population.
Local legislator wants cities to gain power
Josh McLaurin introduced a bill in the 2021-2022 Georgia General Assembly session to allow cities to regulate the use of bows and arrows. It died in committee. He told the Sandy Springs Reporter that he’s not sure if the bill will gain traction, but he remains interested in its passage. As he’s being sworn in as a state senator in January, he would have to introduce a new Senate bill for passage.
“There are huge private property and safety issues that arise when people travel to neighborhoods where they don’t live to kill wild animals for sport. And there are other ways to control the deer population besides deputizing unknown bow hunters to come walk around in people’s backyards,” McLaurin said.
Trespassing biggest complaint for game warden
If hunting is prohibited, expect an increase in landscape damage and deer-vehicle collisions, Bowers said.
Game Warden Brock Hoyt, whose assignment includes Sandy Springs, said the biggest questions he gets about hunting are property questions and firearm questions. Hunters must get permission from property owners to hunt on their land, he said. He gets about 50 trespassing cases each year.
If a wounded deer wanders onto another property, the hunter can’t cross over to that land.
“If a deer runs onto a neighboring property, that person will need to ask you permission to retrieve in that area as well,” Hoyt said.
“How do I make sure that hunters are aware that my property is off-limits?” Mayor Rusty Paul asked.
Hoyt confirmed that in Georgia, property is considered as posted against hunting unless the property owners give explicit permission. He recommends that they get it in writing.
Lee said when cities ban hunting in parks they’re exercising a property owner’s right to limit access for hunting.
He recommended that the City Council take no action on bow hunting.
Councilmember Melody Kelley said she received 32 emails from her District 2 constituents, who live in the northern portion of the city and west of Roswell Road, bordered on the west by the Chattahoochee River.
Residents cite problems with hunters, coyotes
John Zamer of Huntcliff subdivision shared several problems with bow hunting. He said members of bow hunting clubs and other hunters come into the neighborhood looking for trophies.
“We have had arrows found that struck our homes and we have found deer stands in our backyards,” he said.
Those can reach speeds up to 200 miles an hour and can travel as long as 1,000 yards, Zamer said.
“It’s well established that killing some bucks only extends the mating season for the remaining deer and the community has an overpopulation problem,” Zamer said.
“My last point is this is not this is a bow and arrow problem. It should not be viewed as an animal problem. We’re not asking you to regulate hunting. That’s for the state to do,” he said. “We are asking you consistent with your primary duty of ensuring public safety to ban the use of bows and arrows in the city.
Meredith Powers of Spalding Lake subdivision has a different concern. She wants more control of the deer and coyote populations in the community.
“The deer are a big nuisance and causing damage. But the coyotes have affected our neighborhood residents’ quality of life,” she said.
Coyotes have residents scared to let their children play in their yards and have them fearful of walking their dogs, she said. She doesn’t leave her house without a “barrage of weapons,” including a whistle, stick, mace and a loud noisemaker.
Short and long-term wildlife balancing plans are needed, she said.
Bow hunting is safer and more effective than rifle hunting in neighborhoods where there are children and dogs on leashes, Powers said.
Melinda Freeman said the overpopulation of deer is threatening the forests in the city’s panhandle where she lives.
“Bow hunting of deer is the only form of birth control that we can use to call our deer population,” she said. “A favorite food of the deer is young bark. And in our community, especially in my backyard, I’ve noticed deer have successfully wiped out a decade of new tree growth.”