City officials are contemplating a deer hunt in Decorah.
Northeast Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer Depredation Specialist Ross Ellingson of the DNR’s Manchester office addressed the Decorah City Council Monday night on options the city has for reducing the deer population within Decorah City limits.
Through the years, city officials have received complaints from residents about deer destroying shrubbery and landscaping and about the number of motor vehicle accidents involving deer.
Ellingson said Decorah is already ahead of other cities because it allows deer to be taken with a bow on private property with the property owner’s permission.
“A lot of cities don’t allow hunting whatsoever. They are starting from square one,” he said.
Mayor Don Arendt clarified that private property owners can arrange to have deer taken on their property by bow during hunting season as long as the bow doesn’t enter public property or someone else’s private property.
Ellingson said that could be expanded by offering a special deer management zone hunt that would allow hunting within the city from mid-September through Jan. 20. He said the first step would be establishing consensus on whether the community wants to have such a hunt. If there is, he said public hearings would be held on ordinance changes to allow for it. The city’s request eventually would be submitted to DNR officials in Des Moines and if approved, Decorah could have its first special zone hunt next fall.
Ellingson said there would be a quota for licenses available within city limits for antlerless deer, and the number of licenses issued would be determined by the DNR. Hunters would need to pass a proficiency test and a bow hunter education program and receive written permission from landowners who would allow them to hunt on their land within city limits, Ellingson explained.
Ellingson, and DNR Wildlife Biologist Terry Haindfield of rural Decorah, who accompanied Ellingson to Monday night’s meeting, were asked if they had an idea what the city’s deer population is. They said they did not but that information such as deer accidents within city limits and the number of complaints from residents is important in helping city officials make decisions on controlling the population.
“Cities shoot for 25 deer per square mile or less. Without knowing the number of deer in the city, it’s hard to set that goal,” Ellingson said.

Success
Arendt asked how the special zone hunts have worked in other cities.
Ellingson said they have been “very successful” in communities he’s worked with including Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Dubuque, Clinton and Davenport.
Council member Andy Carlson asked whether he worked with cities comparable in size to Decorah.
Ellingson said hunts have been held in Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor. McGregor officials ended the hunts when they received complaints there weren’t enough deer; however, they are considering implementing the program again.
Ellingson was asked if zone hunts only involve archery, and Ellingson said bow hunting is used in cities because of the elevated stands hunters use and the limited distance of the projectile. He said firearms have been used in state parks and in “perimeter zones” outside city limits.
Council member Kirk Johnson asked where the hunters are tested for proficiency. Ellingson said the tests are often conducted at local archery shops, but that would have to be determined should the city proceed with a zone hunt.
Johnson also asked if officials in cities where the hunts are allowed received complaints about wounded animals wandering through neighborhoods. Ellingson responded that problem is almost non-existent.
“Hunters take their time. They don’t want to screw up the hunt for everyone else. It’s a privilege they don’t want to see go away,” he said.

Opinions vary
Haindfield told the Council opinions on how much the deer population should be reduced and whether a zone hunt should be allowed in the city would undoubtedly vary.
“One (deer) is too many for some people and 100 are not enough for some people,” he said.
“There will be just as many people who won’t want this to happen as those who do want it. It could be very controversial.”
Haindfield said what the city currently has in place to control the deer population could be enhanced, including encouraging more hunting on adjacent property outside the city.
He also said winter deer populations in the city vary depending on the weather. More deer move into the city during harsh winters, which leads to more damage to trees and shrubbery and more deer crossing roads and causing accidents.
“If this winter (weather) holds like this, there will be a lot fewer complaints and a lot less deer in Decorah,” Haindfield said.
He said before leash laws in the 1970s, deer weren’t a problem in the city because dogs would chase them away.

Back yard deer
Council member Bill Wagner asked the best way to “harass” the deer that show up in his backyard every night, and Haindfield said protecting shrubs with a fence is the “best mechanism.” He said chemicals that might discourage deer wouldn’t stop a starving animal from causing damage.
Bev Crumb-Gesme, who lives on Linden Street, said she often has as many as 16 deer in her backyard and recently observed two bucks fighting.
She said nothing frightens the deer and that it would be too costly to try to fence her property. She suggested the citizens who don’t want the deer killed should come to her yard and take a picture of them which they could look at later.
“You don’t have to see the deer all of the time. Something needs to be done,” she said, adding city officials should start the process of establishing a zone hunt.
City Manager Chad Bird said he received two letters before Monday’s meeting from Decorah residents Lyle Otte and Elizabeth Steding, who said they would support a deer hunt within city limits.

Hunger program
Council member Gary Rustad asked if communities where hunts are allowed have had meat donated to local food pantries and food shelves.
Ellingson said hunters are made aware of the statewide Help Us Stop Hunger Program (HUSH) that gives donated deer meat to needy families or prisons.
Arendt thanked Ellingson for his presentation and said because of the interest in a zone hunt, the matter should be referred to the city’s public safety committee, which should schedule a discussion for early next year.