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Bag a deer, catch a flight

Olaf Loose | Vetta | Getty Images

Passengers can't take guns, knives or other weapons on airplanes, but starting next month, 157 hunters will get licenses to bow hunt for deer on land owned by Pittsburgh International Airport.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority created the pilot program in response to a request from two state officials on behalf of constituents who attended a town meeting and expressed interest in hunting on airport-owned acreage.

"We have a rich hunting tradition here in western Pennsylvania," said State Sen. Matt Smith, one of the program's proponents. "The area around the airport is fairly rural and has a rich potential for game that is sought after by hunters."

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Like most airports, Pittsburgh International has a wildlife management effort to avoid hazards on from birds, deer and other wildlife.

"While there is currently no animal problem at the airport, if left uncontrolled, an overpopulation on remote land owned by the airport could eventually become a problem," said airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny.

A large swath of land around the airport was once available for recreation and hunting, but two years ago signs prohibiting trespassing went up.

"Not even bird-watchers could go out there," said Jerry Gileot, a hunter who lives near the airport. "We were able to get it open for this year for bow hunting and hopefully for other activities in the future."

The airport worked out the pilot with local hunting groups, and this year about 2,362 acres of remote airport property will be open for bow hunting, with licenses awarded by lottery. More than 2,500 people have applied so far, with some requests coming from as far away as Texas, Utah and Florida.

"The locals are laughing about that," Gileot said. "If those hunters think there's a big buck behind every tree here, they'll be really disappointed."

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There won't be any charge for permits the first year, Smith said. "It's simply for the benefit of individual hunters. But because there is a cost to the airport to operate the program, we may try to be creative and use this as a way to generate revenue to avoid putting the onus" on taxpayers.

This year's bow-hunting season runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 11, 2014. Applications can be submitted through Sept. 22 at www.FlyPittsburgh.com/archery.

Pittsburgh isn't the only airfield with a hunting program. In 2012, after a moratorium of several years, Minnesota's St. Cloud Regional Airport began allowing hunting for whitetail deer on 170 acres.

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People pay $10 to enter a lottery for seven permits, and winners must pay an additional $5. This year St. Cloud received 79 applications for the season, which started last Saturday.

Bow hunters there have to follow a number of specific rules, including removing all entrails and disposing of them properly. The city also provides information on donating the meat if hunters aren't going to eat it.

"I had a meeting with the seven permit winners to go over the process," said airport manager Bill Towle. "I had them sign a paper saying they understand the rules and I told them they have to all get along out there."

—Harriet Baskas has written seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.

Correction: This story has been corrected to add Bill Towle's job title. He is the airport manager.

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