Deer are a nuisance.
But getting shot by an errant or drunk hunter while taking a hike in a park or sitting on your back porch is a whole lot more serious problem.
So Clifton Park officials considering allowing limited hunting in four town parks to cull the burgeoning deer population must put public safety above all else when deciding whether to move forward.
Under a preliminary plan, discussed at a recent public hearing, the town would allow 25 bow-hunters selected by a lottery to go into four town parks – Vischer Ferry Preserve, Garnsey Park, Veterans Park, or the Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve – for 22 days at the end of November to kill deer.
Such a program is rife with potential problems, not the least of which is that someone enjoying a late-fall hike on any of the park’s trails might get shot.
Remember: These are public parks first, hunting grounds second.
The proposed law addresses many safety concerns, such as screening of hunters who would be eligible for the hunting lottery.
Among the considerations is that all potential hunters must be licensed, attend a training session, and pass a proficiency test that includes hitting a 12-inch target from 20 feet on three out of five tries.
In addition, hunters should have no background that would indicate they might be irresponsible, such as past complaints against them.
There are also other rules in the proposal that include how close hunters can be to dwellings, roads, trails and other buildings.
Hunters also should be specifically prohibited from drinking alcohol while hunting. (Although that’s already in the state rules, town officials need to make that a priority).
Town officials also need to commit safety officers to the park during hunting hours to ensure that citizens aren’t inadvertently walking into a shooting range, that hunters are obeying the rules, and to be available to receive and act on complaints immediately.
Hunting can be a safe activity, even in a public park, and a valuable service to a community like Clifton Park in helping reduce deer populations.
But when expanding the practice to public areas — where visitors aren’t accustomed to encountering hunters and hunters aren’t used to being watchful for non-hunters — the town needs to bend over backwards to ensure everyone’s safety before moving forward.