It’s in the very beginning stages, but at least one Alexandria City Council member wants to explore the possibility of having an archery deer hunt within city limits as a way to control deer populations that some say are getting out of control.
Council member Roger Thalman brought the subject up for discussion at a Dec. 14 city council meeting. Thalman works hard to try to keep deer away from his own garden and landscaping. He lives in a wooded area of Alexandria just off McCay Avenue, and said he has a 6-foot-high fence all around his garden to keep it from getting eaten by deer.
“In our development, we have seen 10, 11, 12 deer come walking down the street in a group,” Thalman said. “We have personally experienced the issue, but then this year I’ve been starting to get calls from people also in the neighborhood complaining about this. They brought up the fact that other cities have ordinances to shoot deer (through bow seasons).”
Deer are incredibly adaptable to all sorts of environments, from the most rural areas of the country to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Many in more urban settings have few natural predators and find enough food through mast crops and browse, as well as gardens and yards.
Thalman has also talked to Alexandria residents who are opposed to a city deer hunt. They voiced that they like seeing the deer around town. A specific ordinance would have to be passed to allow a hunt within the city limits.
“If we’re going to pass an ordinance, I know we would have a hearing on it,” Thalman said. “I could see having a couple of them because it’s going to be a controversial issue, and we don’t want to just leave it for one night. If we’re going to pursue it, we would do some of the research into it. Find the pros and cons and then have a public hearing on it for input.”
The Alexandria Police Department has responded to a total of 215 collisions with deer in the last 10 years. Those have been up a little bit above the 21.5 annual average in each of the last three years at 24 (2020), 23 (2019) and 26 (2018).
There are many other cities in Minnesota that allow archery hunts as a way to control deer populations. Most have separate regulations in place than what hunters are used to in their deer permit areas that are managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The city of Duluth started an archery hunt in 2005, and it has a maximum number of 400 participants. That maximum number of hunters allowed each year for a city hunt goes as low as 10 in smaller communities like Granite Falls and Tower.
Heading into the 2020 archery season, more than 6,600 deer had been taken by hunters during the Duluth city hunt. Both deer harvested and hunter participation numbers dropped to their lowest levels in the hunt’s history in 2019, but organizers say that’s a sign of the hunt doing what it was intended to do in lowering deer populations.
The Duluth hunt is administered by a group called the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance. The city is broken up into multiple zones, and all hunters register early each summer and are assigned a zone to hunt in. Participants also must pass an annual archery proficiency test, and permission is required from landowners to hunt on the allowed private property.
Some city hunts in Minnesota are antlerless only or earn-a-buck where hunters have to shoot an antlerless deer first before they can shoot a buck. Taking females out of the herd is the surest way to control a population.
“We would have to do a lot of research into it,” Thalman said of a potential Alexandria model. “We won’t just jump into it. We’ll research it first, and then we’re going to look for public opinion.”
Safety regulations are almost always written into the ordinance too to address concerns in areas of high-public use within the city.
“The city has to think about where the hunt needs to happen,” Alexandria area conservation officer Mitch Lawler said. “For example, you wouldn’t want to necessarily have a certain distance from the Central Lakes Trail be hunted where people are walking their dogs or are within a shot distance of an archer. There’s a lot of towns and cities that have (a hunt). You just have to consider stuff like that.”
DNR wildlife manager Kevin Kotts said they have not set up any special deer hunts out of the Glenwood office before. Statewide, the DNR has helped in setting up many special hunts.
“We don’t have a population survey of deer within Alexandria,” Kotts said. “We would work with the city to determine what the issues are, how a deer hunt might address those issues and then set hunt goals and put together a hunting plan to reach those goals.”
Kotts said it might be determined that an Alexandria hunt is not needed after going through that formal process.
“Our office is certainly willing to discuss the need for and the process of setting up a special deer hunt,” Kotts said.
Thalman said it would be his hope that the DNR would help administer any potential hunt in Alexandria, but that if the agency couldn’t, that responsibility would fall under the city council.
Thalman plans to keep pushing the council to look into this after the new year once the two newly elected council members take office.
“I will bring it up again, and where do we want to go with this?” Thalman said. “Do we want to form a committee on it? I think we need to look into it.”