Deer hunt in Austin starts Wednesday

Published 9:25 am Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A first-of-its kind for Austin deer hunt begins Wednesday. Qualified bow hunters will be in designated city parks and city property to reduce the deer population. The goal is a healthier urban forest and deer herd.

Of 68 people who originally applied for the hunt that runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 20, 32 hunters received hunting rights in the designated areas of Todd Park, the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, the Cresthaven Addition, the Schrefel Wildlife Management Area and Bustad Park. The city had 38 slots to fill.

“We have never had a city hunt like this,” said Kim Underwood, Parks, Recreation and Forestry director.

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It’s unique in that the hunting areas will remain accessible to the general public. Along with precautions such as making prospective bow hunters pass a shooting proficiency test this openness is expected to contribute to safety.

“We’ve had deer hunts at the Nature Center in the past, but it has not been part of a wider city one like this,” said Luke Reese, director of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

Along with the proficiency test to “prove they can hit what they’re shooting at,” the hunters have a list of requirements that enhance safety, including they can only discharge their bows from an “elevated position” — a deer stand —  and must be 150 feet from main pathways and buildings.

Crossbows are not allowed.

City hunt organizers also learned from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that the practice of closing off an area “creates the expectation that the place is more empty of people and hunters can be more free with their arrows,” Reese said.

Removing that expectation heightens caution.

Also, a longer duration hunt is more likely to accomplish the ecological goals of a hunt.

Shutting down the Nature Center for relatively short hunts makes it difficult to cull enough deer to make a difference in the forest health.

“We expect the hunters will do quite well,” Reese said

Technically, the city charter requires that its parks close on Oct. 15, except for the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, Underwood said. Being closed for the season, however, does not mean the public is locked out of the parkland, but the bathrooms are closed.

Park users should be aware that bowhunting is going on, Underwood said. The city will post some signs and hunters will keep an eye out.

The need to cull deer comes out of the lack of natural predators and the shortage of food that leads deer into places they are not wanted, according to Reese. Aside from eating homeowners’ flowers, they eat just about anything green except for the invasive species such as buckthorn.

“So we’re not seeing as much native vegetation and native growth as we hope for,” he said.

The Nature Center is historically hit hard during winter  because the deer “crowd in here because they learned it was a safe place and it’s sheltered from the wind” and there is easy access to water.

A too-large herd also means more roadway collisions.

The city is limiting the number of hunters per area. Only seven hunters at a time will be allowed in Todd Park, 21 at the Nature Center, four in the Bustad addition, two in Cresthaven addition and four in the Schrefel Wildlife Management Area.