OWATONNA — After discussing the fate of the annual deer hunt during a June meeting, the Owatonna City Council has taken action to approve two hunts with the goal to cull the number of deer within city limits.

On July 2, the council members unanimously approved an archery hunt for deer in local parks during the last two months of the year, similar to the hunt held in 2018. The hunt, which will run from Nov. 2 to Dec. 20, will be broken into two seasons, the first ending on Nov. 23 and the second starting on Nov. 24. The number of hunters allowed each season will be limited to 15 per season, with each hunter having to pass an archery proficiency test in order to qualify.

There will be two changes to this year’s hunt, however, including the raising of the participation fee and adding Mineral Springs Park back onto the list for the second half of the hunt.

“Mineral Springs Park has been an area where we’ve had [the hunt] in the past, but in the last few years we have not. We do have our disc golf course at that park,” said Troy Klecker, the community development director and interim parks and recreation director for the city, noting that the high use of the park and concerns from neighbors led to the park being removed from previous hunts. “If we were to look at having a hunt at Mineral Springs, we would probably look at having it just during the season session of a test in that area.”

Council president Greg Schultz voiced strong support to adding Mineral Springs Park to the second hunt, stating that since the June 18 meeting he had received numerous texts, phone calls, and emails from people living around the park who support the hunt.

“People are irritated — a lot — with some of the deer out there,” Schultz said, adding that he also resides next to Mineral Springs Park. “And they have caused numerous accidents.”

During the previous discussion about the deer hunts, council member Kevin Raney requested that Klecker follow up with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the need for the hunt in Owatonna. Klecker reported back in July with the DNR’s findings.

“Their goal is to have six deer per square mile,” Klecker explained to the council. “In our area, the count is seven to 11 deer per square mile, which is certainly a little above what the DNR’s goal for density is for deer.”

According to the DNR, population control is essential to supporting a thriving and disease-free deer population in Minnesota. Each year, the DNR establishes the desired deer harvest to achieve a multi-year population objective at the deer permit area level. A new White-tailed Deer Management Plan, completed in 2018 and effective for the years 2019-2028, identifies strategies to minimize deer damage to native plants, agricultural crops, forest regeneration, or negative community impacts such as deer/vehicle collisions and urban deer conflicts.

“After this year, if we find out that the DNR estimates are still higher, then we need to do Mineral Springs Park in the first, early hunt next year,” said council member Brent Svenby.

For the increase in the participation fee, Klecker explained that this would allow the city to compensate the non-city staff for their involvement in the hunt. The non-refundable application fee, which offsets any costs associated with the hunt, will be raised from $12 to $20 for the 2019 hunt.

The other parks that will be available for archers during both hunts are Cashman Park, Hammann Park, Kaplan’s Woods, Leo Rudolph Nature Reserve, Manthey Park, Kriesel Park, Kaplan’s Woods Parkway, Maple Creek Parkway, and the North Straight River Park Area.

Only antlerless deer, meaning does or button bucks, may be harvested during the hunt with a bag limit of five deer per hunter. Once a hunter harvests one antlerless deer, the hunter may then hunt for a regular buck in what the city calls the “earn-a-buck” program.

The registration deadline is Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. Hunters must be at least 18-years-old to apply. All Minnesota DNR rules and regulations will apply.

Archery bows are the only weapons allowed during the city park hunts, though Raney and council member Nate Dotson encouraged city staff to investigate the possibility of allowing other weapons in the hunt beginning in 2020, specifically the use of crossbows. City Administrator Kris Busse confirmed that there are certain exemptions that come with crossbow use, and that the city’s rules of requiring participants to hunt from an elevated station would remain intact regardless of the weapon.

The Parks and Recreation Department will administer, manage, and monitor the archery hunt. For more information, contact Mary Jo Knudson at 507-774-7364.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 444-2378 or Follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie.

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