For Rapid City’s deer population, a day of reckoning is fast approaching. Come January, deer baiting stations packed with alfalfa and apples will be installed in wooded areas like Skyline Drive and western Rapid City, near the precipice of the Black Hills.
As a cold, clear night descends upon the rolling plains and undulating hills, two certified shooters will silently stalk the stations, waiting patiently for a brazen buck to try his luck. Time is of little significance to the shooters, just one solitary number: 150.
That’s how many mule doe, whitetail buck and whitetail doe will be “harvested,” i.e. shot and collected, during what city Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Biegler believes will be a one- to two-week operation.
At Tuesday’s Public Works Committee meeting, committee members unanimously approved the Parks and Recreation plan to harvest 150 deer for the 2017/2018 season. The plan, which must be formally approved at Monday's Rapid City Council meeting, comes after the Parks department completed its annual deer trend survey in October.
Over the span of three shifts — two nights and one early morning — parks department staffers manned observation points in “urban wildlife interface” areas where deer typically congregate and the lines between city and forest are blurred. Sightings were tallied and noted.
When the survey was complete, the city sent the results to the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department, which recommends how many deer should be harvested based on the survey. This year that figure was 150. In 2015/2016 and 2016/2017, it was 100. In 2014/2015, it was 150. The city has conducted the survey and harvest each year since the 1994-95 winter, though Biegler said in 2002 and 2003 the survey found that there was no need for deer harvesting.
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Deer-vehicle crash data and reports of deer sightings by citizens throughout the city are also considered, especially when determining where to set up baiting stations. During Tuesday’s meeting, Biegler said this year would be the first time the city would include areas surrounding the Red Rocks and Countryside subdivisions after they received multiple calls for those residents about deer sightings.
“Our main reason for doing this is to reduce those incidents (deer-vehicle accidents and landscape destruction) and improve the safety for those who are living, working and driving around Rapid City,” Biegler said in an interview. Biegler was hesitant to say why the number jumped to 150 from 100 the previous winter.
“I’m not a game specialist, but it could be a number of things,” he said. “It could be the drought bringing more deer into the urban areas or it could be just a natural spike in population.”
As the city has done in the past, the meat will be processed and donated to the local food bank Feeding South Dakota. Sportsmen Against Hunger and Black Hills Sportsmen will continue their partnership with the city by donating $1,000 each toward the cost of the meat processing. The city, using its Parks department operating budget, will pay the remaining balance. In 2016 it cost $11,514 — meat processing was the largest expense at $3,940 — to harvest 100 deer, according to Journal archives.
By the end of January, the harvest will have passed and Rapid Citians may expect to see fewer deer prancing through prairies and bumbling across byways. Just don’t expect to see the shooters.
“They do their shooting at night,” Biegler said, explaining that it’s done after dusk in an effort to avoid public interaction.