In a previous article, I mentioned a need for deer management that was well planned, targeted and flexible enough to cross boundaries in order to better steward the wild population of herbivore. At the time I believed I was fantasizing, but recently discovered that such a method is already in place, albeit rarely used.

My cousin Adam spent a great deal of time living outside Philadelphia working for the USDA. A major component of his job was to suppress the goose population that reproduced abundantly around the landfills and airports (think captain Sully and his Hudson River emergency landing) and to suppress the deer population that exploded in and around suburban neighborhoods. An outdoorsman through and through, the job seemed tailor made for him, and through the experience he learned a great deal about wildlife laws in Pennsylvania.

Today, Adam and his wife live close to family in Harrisburg and he’s working with his Dad at their small business, ABK Pest Control. Residential pest control, I have learned, is not limited to bugs and bees. During an overnight stay at the farm, Adam regaled us with stories of groundhog removals and wild goose chases that I would’ve never associated with the term “pest control.”

Pricing is a challenge. In one instance, a church hired Adam to eliminate groundhogs that were undermining the foundation of their building. He presented the board with a modest sign-on fee plus a certain amount per groundhog that he figured would be profitable; in fact, at face value it seemed almost too much, he told us. The problem, in reality, was that all the ‘hogs didn’t trap themselves at once. Calls came once a day or every other day, which meant Adam was regularly driving an hour round trip to eliminate one mangy varmint, thus eating up the profit he hoped to live on. Fortunately the church had a giant hornet’s nest in the eaves and, since he was already there for the groundhogs, they asked Adam to take it down too. He made a little money there.

In another case, a golf course brought him in to tackle a goose problem. The money on offer was good, and in an attempt to impress management with his ability, Adam gave them a couple basic goose-removing tips prior to being formally hired. His tips were so effective that the course decided they didn’t need to hire Adam at all. Good natured by genetic default, he’s not too bothered by the missed opportunity: “I helped them out. Hopefully because of that they’ll call me again someday, and golf courses tend to recommend their friends to each other.”

What Adam wants is steady work to supplement the lumpy income and unpredictable schedule of household annoyances. One idea is to become a designated shooter for area farmers. In this capacity, ABK Pest Control would be kept on a monthly retainer to scout fields and shoot deer during the dark hours. ABK handles the paperwork nightmare with the state; farmers simply sign on for the service, explain the territory to be hunted, and go about their lives.

This sounds like a home run. It’s legal so nobody is going to jail for shooting the King’s deer, and farmers don’t have to worry about working all day and then staying up all night trying to protect what they worked on during the day. There is a catch, of course.

It’s not as simple as shooting a deer. One of the requirements of the designated shooter program is to get the venison into the food chain so it is not wasted. Therefore, in addition to all the paperwork, a facility is required to cold-store the deer carcasses, a butcher is needed to process the animals, and a network to distribute the meat must be in place for the program to function smoothly. Adam said he would have to charge in the neighborhood of $250 per deer killed to cover his costs, and he can kill a lot of deer in a night.

My enthusiasm drained away. Who could afford that?

Adam isn’t advertising this service to individual farmers — he’s targeting county Farm Bureaus and Farmer’s Cooperatives. Organizations like to offer meaningful perks to members and they tend to have the budget to pay for the services of someone like Adam. Adding a designated shooter option to the list might be the bait that attracts more membership.

This is an idea that should be pursued by local farm organizations. Having a deer elimination expert on call would be a tremendous help to farmers, landowners and gardeners who are plagued by damaging deer populations. What’s more, the organization would get a feather in its cap for supplementing food assistance programs (where most of the venison is directed) from wildlife resources within the region. Maybe they could even make a deal with an upscale restaurant, thus satisfying the high-end market for wild sustenance. It’s always good to stimulate new enthusiasm within established organizations, and bridging the wildlife-consumer gap might be just the thing to attract new faces.

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