People flying into PHL Airport might get something new to look at during takeoff and landing: deer hunters.

The John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicium announced Thursday it’s looking for public input on a plan to implement hunting. The ostensible goal is to curtail overpopulation of white-tailed deer.

There will be no guns allowed — the proposed plan calls for archery hunting only.

The refuge, established in 1972, comprises 1,200 acres of freshwater tidal marsh that are home to dozens of fish, wildlife (including the occasional snowy owl) and plants native to the Delaware Estuary. Hunting, even by bow and arrow, has never before been allowed on its grounds, “because of potential conflicts with local refuge regulations and safety concerns,” per the refuge website.

An outline of the proposed hunt plan provided by the Heinz Refuge dismisses those conflicts and concerns.

In the plan, approximately 170 acres in three areas would be opened to white-tailed deer hunting. No more than 12 hunters would be allowed in on any given day, as decided by lottery, with preference given to first-time youths and disabled persons.

Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations only allow hunting within Philadelphia County through the use of archery or crossbows.

As far as safety, the proposal would establish zones adjacent to any residential areas, and would close nature trails and access points on hunt days. Canoe launches would be held up, and hunters would be “instructed” to not shoot across waterways.

Hunting deer will actually be good for the health of the refuge, the Heinz proposal suggests.

Per the authors, hunting would improve “vegetative conditions” because deer have been eating so much native plant life that invasive foreign species have begun to take over — not ideal for the many migratory birds that stop by twice a year.

The cost of implementing the new activity is estimated at $4,500, and its annual budget is expected to be $9,000, to cover staff to check hunters in and out (with assistance from the Game Commission) and collection of biological info about the killed deer.

The first public presentation of the hunt plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 30, at Ezekiel Baptist Church in Southwest Philly. The second will be held 6 p.m. Friday, May 4, at the Tinicum Township Municipal Building in Essington.

Comments are also being accepted via email to or via snail mail to

Hunt Plan, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
8601 Lindbergh Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19153

Danya Henninger is a Philadelphia-based journalist who believes local news is essential for thriving communities, and that its format will continue to evolve. She spent six years overseeing both editorial...