While walking her dog at Green Valley Park last month, a Payson woman looked up to see two men dressed in camouflage, carrying bows and arrows, hunting geese on the grass.
"I was just really shocked to see them shoot arrows at the park geese," said the woman, who wrote a letter of concern to the town, but asked to remain anonymous. "I ran over and said, ‘You can't do this.' But apparently they can. I guess there's not an ordinance prohibiting this, so it's legal."
With Julia Randall Elementary School right next to the park, the woman was concerned that someone could get hurt. "It's kind of unreal to see these guys hunting where kids could be playing at the park or school," she said. "There weren't any kids around at the time, but there were other people watching. Hunting is not a spectator sport."
Payson Police officers were called to the scene.
"We responded to two guys hunting with bows at Green Valley Park," said Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner. "We contacted Game and Fish and gave the men a warning. But there wasn't anything to cite them for."
No law against it
The incident, which occurred Dec. 3, prompted Payson Parks and Recreation Director Bill Schwind to look into what laws exist, or might be created, to prevent hunting in town parks.
"Due to the hunting incident in Green Valley Park, we found out that hunting in the town limits was actually legal," Schwind said. "From our perspective, the issue here was to make sure that Payson's parks -- and the people in the parks -- were protected."
Schwind received two letters from park patrons who were upset about the hunters. He took the letters and his own concerns to the monthly meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Wed. Jan. 18. "Unfortunately, we didn't have a quorum, so we couldn't make any requests to the council," Schwind said.
As he considered the issue further, Schwind said he realized it went beyond his initial concerns. "My jurisdiction ends at the parks," he said. "The town would need to look at this from a bigger view -- a townwide perspective. These geese are landing anywhere there is turf, so the issue of schools came up. Also school ball fields and churches, so that just basically said there's a lot of places in town where these animals can be hunted. It opens up a larger issue than just hunting in public parks. It's a public safety issue."
A second arrow
On Saturday, three days after the park advisory board meeting, an arrow struck again.
D.J. Craig, who lives near Green Valley Park, said he could hardly believe his eyes. "I was jogging around the lake (Saturday) morning and saw the goose with the arrow through his beak," Craig said. "I thought at first it was a decoy -- some sort of sick antic. Then a fisherman set me straight and I was really sickened. It's hard to believe there isn't an ordinance in place already barring hunting or any use of weapons within the city limits."
Using a boat and a net, police and other town staff tried to capture the injured goose to remove the arrow, which was lodged in the side of the bird's head and exited out his neck. But the frightened animal was able to fly and eluded their efforts.
Chief Gartner said it was important not to make any assumptions about this particular goose, especially because the arrow appears to be designed for target practice.
"We don't know for sure where this goose was shot, because it can fly quite well. It really could have been shot in an area totally outside the town."
Gartner expressed the need for balance when considering an ordinance that might prohibit hunting.
"We don't want to ban hunting altogether inside the town limits because that's how we keep some of the elk and javelina problems down."
"It's true that there are conflicts with wildlife in Payson," said Craig McMullen, field supervisor for Arizona Game and Fish. "For example, elk and javelina cause all kinds of impact to private property owners. One of the best tools to manage wildlife creating conflicts is through lawfully regulated hunting. I think it's important, both for the town and Game and Fish, to keep archery hunting as a tool in its toolbox to help manage wildlife -- in the urban interface as well as statewide."
Gartner said the most common hunting that takes place within town limits is rarely seen by most residents, and includes archery hunting for deer, elk, and javelina. "But hunting near the parks is not safe or smart," Gartner said. "For a hunter -- there's no wisdom in it, and there's no sport in it. Especially not at the park because you can walk right up to these geese."
The witness in the Dec. 3 incident agrees. "I don't think they need to do away with hunting in the town limits," she said, "but at least in the parks and near schools or anywhere people and kids are gathering. It does not seem very sporting at all. I mean, these geese are so tame -- a guy could have snuck up on them wearing a Barney suit.
"But I don't think real hunters want to hunt in the park. My boys are hunters, and they like the whole experience of going out into the woods, being out in nature, tracking them -- you know, the challenge. If you're going to hunt in the park, you might as well just go and shoot a frozen chicken.
"Good hunters are safe hunters. They are careful about the way they hunt."
Gartner said there is a state law that makes it unlawful to discharge a firearm within a quarter-mile of a structure, but laws concerning bow hunting are subjective. "The town attorney's office is currently addressing whether or not someone hunting with a bow at Green Valley Park constitutes reckless endangerment," he said.
A third arrow
On Monday morning, a third arrow showed up at another Payson park.
"The parks maintenance guys picked up an arrow this morning (Monday) at Rumsey Park," Schwind said. "The arrow that was found at the Rumsey Park ball field was a broadhead-tipped hunting arrow. And those things are just razor sharp."
Schwind said he thinks it's time for an ordinance that prohibits hunting in populated areas like the park.
"When our guys are coming in from maintenance with broadhead-tipped arrows, that's a little spooky. Hunters need to use common sense. If you want a black bear trophy for your wall, you don't go hunting at the Phoenix zoo."
Schwind plans to address possible recommendations to the council in the next parks board advisory meeting scheduled for Feb 15. But any ordinance the town may want to create will have limitations.
"The Game and Fish commission has the sole authority to regulate the taking of wildlife in the state of Arizona," McMullen said. "It would be up to the commission to place any sort of limitations on the taking of wildlife within town limits."
However, McMullen said there are some things the town can prohibit. "Hunting doesn't need to occur everywhere within the town limits. While it may be legal by the letter of the law to hunt near schools and parks, I don't think shooting a broadhead-tipped arrow in a city park or near a school is the smartest thing to do. So the town can create an ordinance regulating the discharge of certain weapons within town limits, but not the taking of wildlife," McMullen said.
After making several attempts to help the injured goose at Green Valley Park, McMullen and fellow officer Dave Daniels were able to capture the animal late Monday night by wading neck-deep into the ice-laden lake.
"We were able to safely remove the arrow and deliver the goose to Dr. Gonzales (a local veterinarian)," McMullen said.
The goose was transferred to Southwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Scottsdale.
"The prognosis is that the animal will live and will be returned to the wild. We were pleased to be able to help," McMullen said.