The hunt is on: Rochester’s first archery deer hunt begins in September

ROCHESTER — After years of concerns over deer overpopulation, Rochester city officials are set to cull some of the herd.

Rochester will host its first deer archery hunt in local parks next month after more than a year of talk about how best to deal with four-legged threats.

More than 200 deer-related vehicle accidents have been reported in Rochester in 2021, which city officials say is not unusual.

“There has been an ongoing problem of deer and vehicle incidents over the years,” said Mike Nigbur, Rochester Parks and Forestry Division Chief. “It’s not a one- or two-year problem that’s growing. It’s an ongoing problem that we’ve had for decades.”

Rochester is not alone in its deer woes, as urban areas of the state have struggled with deer for years. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is in the process of setting statewide deer population goals, which are expected to end next year.

The DNR set goals for Southeast Minnesota this year after gathering feedback from hunters and landowners over the past winter and spring. MNR officials expect the local deer population to remain about the same for the next decade as hunters largely believed there were too few deer and landowners believed that there were too many.

As their natural environment shrinks, deer have adapted to both rural and urban areas. They can strip parks and neighborhoods of vegetation by overeating, cause potential traffic accidents and spread Lyme disease, among other public health issues.

Rochester Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman told Rochester City Council in May that there were confirmed reports of deer spreading COVID-19 to humans, which was a factor in the decision to the town to go ahead with a hunt.

Widman also said deer were affecting the city’s park system, stripping vegetation and driving other species out of the area as a result. In Indian Heights Park, locals recently attempted to restore the area’s native grasses — until deer took it over.

“It’s a common complaint that we have from neighbors,” Widman said at the time.

Cities across the state have enacted hunts over the years to control the deer population, with several communities—Mankato, Duluth, and St. Cloud among them—beginning hunts in the early to mid-2000s.

“They have their own set of challenges that aren’t necessarily solved by hunting season at times,” said Brandon Schad, a DNR area wildlife supervisor in southeast Minnesota.

In Rochester, hunters can harvest deer at 11 parks during deer archery season starting Sept. 17. The Rochester Archery Club organizes the hunt, which requires hunters to be at least 18 years old, take bowhunter training courses and pass a proficiency test. , among others.

Club vice president Jeff Lien said five hunters applied. Club members and city officials don’t expect many deer to be harvested in the fall, but they are eager to begin the process without affecting residents.

“The main thing is to try to keep everyone happy,” Lien said. “Give hunters a chance to hunt deer and reduce the town’s population without affecting the rest of the community who may or may not use the parks.”

Earnest A. Martinez