OWATONNA — In an effort to help quell the deer population within the city limits, the City of Owatonna is again considering allowing a hunt to cut back on some of the population.
If it happens though, this hunt will be different.
During a study session on Tuesday night, the Owatonna City Council met with Police Chief Keith Hiller and Parks and Recreation Director James “Corky” Ebeling to discuss possible strategies to manage the deer population in Owatonna.
While taking no official action on the matter, the council is leaning toward partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources again to allow a hunt to take place within the city limits.
“We’ve got some calls and some concerns from residents about deer being a nuisance, jumping over fences and getting into shrubs and what not,” said City Administrator Kris Busse as she explained the reasoning behind the meeting.
Any hunt would have to be approved by the DNR.
The city is leaning toward allowing an archery hunt, in which hunters would have to pass an accuracy test to limit the possible dangers of hunting on city land.
The last hunt, done more than a year ago, used police sharpshooters to hunt deer. The DNR authorized 15 deer to be taken from the city population during the last hunt, and 11 deer were successfully hunted.
“We did some sporadic hunts. We went four separate times,” Hiller said. “It wasn’t overly costly. We didn’t incur any overtime. We had some ammunition costs, and that was about it.”
From April of 2012 to October of 2013, 23 motor vehicle accidents involving deer occurred within the city limits. Hiller said the department handles about 2,000 animal complaint calls a year, meaning calls related to deer make up a small portion of the animal complaint calls.
A majority of the accidents, Hiller said, occurred around the natural habitat for the deer within the city limits. Crashes on Highway 14 are not included in the figure, but the portion of Interstate 35 that runs through Owatonna is included.
Ebeling said the Park Board examined the issue in the fall of 2013. The board voted unanimously that it didn’t consider the deer population to be an issue.
“They hadn’t gotten many calls on it,” Ebeling said. “I met with Jeanine Vorland (of the DNR) and her comments were basically that she would work with the city in any way that they would wish to pursue. She said her complaint status was the same as ours, that she had not heard very many complaints. As a matter of fact she had zero complaints at the DNR’s office for this area.”
First ward council member Nate Dotson noted that a lack of complaints doesn’t mean there aren’t deer present within the city.
The city does have an ordinance in place that prohibits residents from feeding the deer. Hiller said if residents do see people feeding the deer, they should contact law enforcement so the problem can be addressed.
As for the potential archery hunt, it would be done in accordance with the DNR archery hunting season, rather than requiring a special season.
Kyle Ackerman spoke on behalf of the group advocating for the deer hunt. His group would train the hunters and conduct the accuracy tests.
“Basically, the city would just have to change its ordinance or put a provision to allow archery by permit only, so it’s not illegal to shoot a bow in town,” Ackerman said. “It’s more than just an archery hunt. If you set it up correctly, it’s actually an informational tool for everyone in this room.”
Ackerman said hunters would be required to inform the city when they were hunting, as well as when they finish hunting. Hunters also must keep track of the number of deer they see in the area.
“It’s not just, ‘Go put an archer out there and see if he can get some deer.’ It’s more than that,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman said the program wouldn’t cost the city, in fact the city could charge a fee on top of the DNR license fee to allow hunters to hunt on city property. He added that hunters typically have a 40 percent success rate.
If a hunt were to take place, the DNR would set a number for how many deer can be harvested. Hiller said with bodies like the Steele County Special Deputies, the Owatonna Police Reserve Unit, an Explorer Post, an educational campaign and competent hunters, the hunt should be pretty safe.
Ebeling suggested focusing the hunt around the North Straight River Trail. Ebeling said there haven’t been as many complaints from other areas of the city.
“That’s my personal opinion only. In talking to Rick Smith at (Brooktree) Golf Course, there’s not a problem up there,” Ebeling said. “In Kaplan’s Woods, where probably a lot of deer do live, we don’t get a lot of complaints from the neighbors around Kaplan’s Woods.”
One thing is clear, even if a hunt takes place, there will still be deer in and around Owatonna.
“We’re living in rural Minnesota, and you’re going to have deer no matter what,” Ebeling said.
Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain