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Dan Kraker, Published September 15 2013

Urban deer hunt aims to control population

DULUTH, Minn. – Hundreds of hunters in Duluth, Grand Rapids and the Twin Cities didn’t have to drive far to find a deer when the season opened Saturday for archers. They set up their blinds right in the city, even in people’s backyards.

When members of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance first started hunting in Duluth nine years ago, they anticipated a “Not in My Backyard” response. More often they hear, “Why not in my backyard?,” said group president Phillip Lockett.

“It’s kind of surprising, you get these little old ladies that you don’t think would be furious with the deer, but they’re almost bloodthirsty,” Lockett said. “They’re just like, ‘We want them all gone!’ ”

Sally Sneve might not be bloodthirsty, but the 81-year-old was certainly fed up with deer when she contacted Lockett’s group five years ago. She recalls a day when 16 deer mulled about “like cows chewing their cuds.”

While she enjoys seeing the deer, especially the spring fawns, she dreads them getting older. “I just know they’re going to be eating our bushes this fall,” she said, “but they are darling little things.”

Not everyone happy

Duluth hunters kill about 600 deer annually. Across the state and country, urban bow hunts continue to proliferate as communities search for affordable ways to control their booming deer populations.

Grand Rapids and Cook in northeast Minnesota, and Newport and Lino Lakes in the metro area are holding hunts for the first time this year.

The bow hunt isn’t universally loved and it doesn’t solve the problem of too many deer, says Leslie Simon, a wildlife ecologist for the Humane Society of the United States.

She argues that while hunts may initially put a dent in the deer population, the numbers bounce back. Bow hunting, she added, is less humane than other methods of controlling the deer population because it often only wounds the animals.

Instead, the Humane Society recommends planting flowers and shrubs that don’t attract deer, using repellants that keep them away, or fencing to protect gardens.

“If you’re trying to manage deer by managing their numbers, it’s really a losing battle,” she said. “The deer are going to come in from the surrounding area and continue to be tempted to your backyard.”

Effect unknown

There’s not much data to show how effective the hunts have been. In Ramsey County, aerial surveys do show a sharp drop in deer numbers in many parks since hunting began in 2000.

Tom Rusch, the DNR area wildlife manager in Tower, said the problem doesn’t get solved in one year.

“But we’ve seen it be effective,” he said. “I expect to hear from people, I’m not seeing the deer I used to see, that’s the kind of reaction you get.”

That’s what Brian Borkholder has seen firsthand in Duluth.

He suspects that’s partly because hunters are required to shoot a doe before they take a buck and that has to mean fewer babies. “We can’t have not made a difference.”