Opinion: Regulate urban hunting to protect our children

My husband and I often sit on our back porch in Kingsridge — a subdivision inside of Kingswood — watching our kids and other kids from the neighborhood run freely around our backyard, often going on adventures in the small patch of woods behind our house. 

That simple joy was stolen from our family this week when a hunter came to our door, informing me that he had shot a deer in my backyard. He was standing in the wooded area behind our house, bow hunting. The police officer and Game Warden, whom I called as soon as the incident happened, told me that the hunter was entirely within his legal rights to hunt because the owner of the narrow stretch of woods snakes between the Kingwood houses had given the hunter permission. 

In Athens, many residential neighborhoods back up to privately held wooded areas. According to Georgia law, hunters can use any private land for bow hunting with permission from the owner. Urban hunting, the term hunters use when referring to bow hunting within city and suburban areas, is popular because the deer are larger and fatter in suburban areas due to an abundance of food. Urban hunting has been gaining in popularity in the last few years due to difficulties accessing hunting land and the expense of meat. 

I am not against hunting and have hunted in the past. My husband and I also lease land to hunters in rural Arkansas. However, I find it frustrating that suburban bow hunting is permitted and does not require the warning or consideration of neighboring residents in high-density single-family homes. 

While bow hunting is relatively safe, it is not without accidents, and there is an inherent risk of discharging any weapon in such close proximity to where my children play. This risk is why I was frustrated to learn that local governments cannot set commonsense restrictions in suburban areas on bow hunters’ rights in Georgia.

According to Georgia law, only the Georgia Department of National Resources board has the power and duty to regulate hunting. The code states:

“No political subdivision of the state may regulate hunting, trapping, or fishing by local ordinance; provided, however, that a local government shall not be prohibited from exercising its management rights over real property owned or leased by it for purposes of prohibiting hunting, fishing, or trapping upon the property or for purposes of setting times when access to the property for purposes of hunting, fishing, or trapping in accordance with this title may be permitted.”

This provision in Georgia takes away the power for local governments to govern their constituents. 

Stripping local governments of their right to protect residents centralizes power with the state government and remove our right to self-governance. Similar to the law that prohibited local school boards from creating COVID-19 mask mandates, the law that restricts what teachers can teach in the classroom, or the law that restricts local governments from decreasing police budgets, this centralizing of governmental control takes power away from local communities and gives the power to different departments in our state government that have little interaction with how their policies are impacting citizens on the ground in Kingswood or Beechwood or Woodhaven subdivisions. 

When I reached out to Houston Gaines, he sympathized and admitted he was unaware of the lack of regulations. Because he is local, he understood how residential the Kingswood subdivision is. And while Gaines and I rarely see eye to eye on political matters, we were aligned in seeking ways to protect the children in this neighborhood. 

Gaines wasn’t the only local politician who went out of their way to listen to my concerns and investigate solutions. In fact, in the decade and a half that I’ve lived in Athens, this has been my experience! 

However, the Game Warden lives in Madison county. He wasn’t aware of the play structure in my backyard, feet away from the dead deer the hunter shot that day — or the Elementary school across the street from the property. And while the conversation was frustrating with the Game Warden, he was willing to talk with me. But the governor-appointed board of the Department of National Resources are men and women who do not live in Athens, are not accessible to residents, and are not accountable to any of us. 

As urban hunting gains popularity, I want to protect my family’s right to enjoy our backyard without fearing being hit by an arrow or my children being traumatized by a deer dying before their eyes. Imagine if the power to regulate hunting within city limits rested with local governments and those aware of the complex social realities of our cities’ ecosystems. Then common-sense hunting regulations would be in place, and we’d have an informed and accountable community.

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