Archery mulled for deer control in Montana town |

Archery mulled for deer control in Montana town

HELENA, Mont. ” Carter County Sheriff Rusty Jardee says mule deer in tiny Ekalaka became a nuisance, munching on vegetable gardens and damaging trees, soon after enforcement of the local leash law.

Now the tiny eastern Montana community and the state wildlife department think they may have at least a partial solution to bothersome deer in town: Let archery hunters kill some of them.

“We’ve got a deer problem in the city limits,” Jardee said by phone from the community that sits in rolling ranch country some 20 miles from South Dakota and has about 380 residents. “They’ve got to figure out some way to get them out of here.”

Archery hunting at designated places in town will be up for consideration by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission when it meets in Kalispell on Thursday.

Neither Jardee nor the town clerk, Janell Dean, recall exactly when Ekalaka began enforcing its leash law ” Jardee thinks it was perhaps six years ago ” but the sheriff remembers that “when the dogs ran wild, we didn’t have any deer” because the canines scared them away.

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But some dogs become tolerant of deer after seeing them time and again, said John Ensign, a regional wildlife manager for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He said the last few winters in eastern Montana have been extraordinarily mild and “you don’t get the deer mortality you would in other years.”

Add to increased survival the ease with which deer are around people after being in town for a while, and the good living conditions in irrigated yards, and you have a wildlife-urban conflict even in a place as minimally urban as Ekalaka, Ensign said.

Some of the locals estimate 50 to 100 deer wander in the community. Numbers that high probably include the fringe around town, according to Ensign, who said Fish, Wildlife and Parks does not have a deer estimate for Ekalaka. If the commission tentatively supports the idea of an archery hunt, then a study would be conducted to better gauge the number of deer and help wildlife biologists determine how big a harvest to recommend.

Complaints largely involve yard and garden damage, Jardee said, although one woman reported that a deer “stomped at her.” She turned around and walked the other way, he said.

“There is concern that when you have those deer in town and getting used to folks, they can get a little rambunctious,” Ensign said. Ekalaka officials want to put a plan in place before safety issues arise, he said.

The proposal up for preliminary action by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is a framework for licensed, town archery hunting that would occur at the same time as fall hunting in the field.

“The time to do that (Ekalaka hunt) is when hunters are out here for the season anyway,” Ensign said.

Colstrip in southeastern Montana uses archery hunters to control deer, and voters in Cherokee Village, Ark., recently supported a hunt with bows and arrows to reduce that town’s deer population. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission plans to issue permits through a lottery open to holders of Arkansas hunting licenses. Fargo, N.D., initiated archery deer hunting in 2006 and in Minnesota, the nonprofit Metro Hunters Resource Base has provided archers to thin deer in some suburbs of the Twin Cities.

The hunt in Colstrip, a town of about 2,300 people, has brought “limited success” in decreasing the population of deer and typically removes 20 to 30 a year, Mayor John Williams said.

“I don’t know what the total answer is far as a reduction,” Williams said, adding that residents’ sensitivities come into play.

“You have folks in your community who want to limit the herd and others who want to have the deer around,” the mayor said.

Traffic on Montana 39, which passes through Colstrip, probably kills as many deer in the area as do hunters carrying bows, he said.

The Ekalaka proposal is on the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission agenda as the Helena Police Department prepares to have a couple of its officers shoot deer in the capital late this summer or early in the fall, after they have been caught in special traps. That plan to remove up to 50 deer advanced with commission approval after some revision.

In Ekalaka, archery has been advocated in the interest of safety, said Dean, the town clerk. Archery hunters pursuing big game have to get closer to their targets than do rifle hunters. Helena officials have said they have safety measures.

Doug Marston fences his apple trees in Ekalaka and lets deer take what they want from his vegetable garden, figuring he will harvest what’s left. Marston has 2.5 acres of garden space, plants about a third of it and says that’s too much to fence. Archery hunting would be “all right,” he said.

“I’ve had as many as 12 to 15 head of deer in there at a time,” Marston said. “I’m not opposed to removing the deer.”

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