Drivers, beware: It’s deer season

Drivers, beware: It’s deer season

  • Article by: KELLY JO MCDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2011 – 10:09 PM

It’s that time of year again for deadly confrontations between driver and deer, which seemingly can appear out of nowhere.

“Deer do unpredictable things — like stop in the middle of the road or cross and quickly recross,” said Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol.

The state Department of Public Safety reported 7,751 deer-vehicle crashes between 2008 and 2010, with one-third of those occurring in October and November. Nineteen people died in those accidents.

In 2010 in Washington County, there were 94 crashes causing 13 injuries and much property damage.

There are two primary reasons for increased deer movement in the fall:

•Farmers are harvesting the last of their crops, particularly corn, thus pushing deer from their hiding places.

•The animals are passionately patrolling the region in search of mates.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates there are 1 million deer in the state, so the odds of some jumping in front of startled drivers are pretty good.

Roeske offers these suggestions: “Drive focused and defensively by looking for reflecting deer eyes and silhouettes, especially during low-light time and in forested and farm areas.”

That’s common sense to many in Washington County who deal with the animals on a day-to-day basis.

Bryan Lueth, north-metro wildlife manager at the DNR, fields all sorts of calls from residents who have deer eating their gardens or crossing their neighborhood streets at dusk.

“Most of the calls come from the suburban areas, places where hunting has been prohibited by local ordinances,” Lueth said. “Deer hunting is our primary tool to manage populations. In the absence of hunting, the populations can grow unchecked. They grow beyond people’s tolerance.”

Lueth keeps an eye on the counties of Washington, Anoka, Ramsey and most of Hennepin. He said the population in Washington County, based on estimates, hasn’t been as overwhelming as in years past.

Peter Mott, manager of Lake Elmo Park Reserve, said plenty of deer still are around.

“We’re ideally situated to have a problem with deer,” he said. “It’s an interface of suburban development and the rural landscape.”

Mott explained that for the past 20 years they have done an annual deer survey. “We get up in a helicopter during the late winter, when there’s still snow on the ground, and count the number of deer residing in and around the boundary of the park. If we get over a magic number, I then call Bryan Lueth, and we begin to talk about working with the DNR to put on a special shotgun hunt.”

That hasn’t been necessary in the park since 2008.

Lueth said Washington County is so subdivided that it’s not rare to see folks who own five to six acres with a horse and some pasture. It can be an issue for hunters when they can’t get on the property.

If a community wants to remove deer outside of the hunting season, officials develop a deer management plan, including special removal permits. But Lueth says in most cases, it costs a lot of money.

“If a hunter is willing to take a deer, it sounds like a win-win instead of paying a sharpshooter $300 per deer to take them out.”

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