Two men poached a massive mule deer buck at the Missoula Coke plant last week, a bulky 5-by-6 that Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) says neighborhood residents enjoyed watching for years.

These same attentive neighbors alerted the FWP office of the illegal kill so quickly that game officers caught the blokes mid-poach, literally red-handed, and charged the men with the unlawful taking of an animal. The two 23-year-olds pleaded guilty Oct. 21, were fined and lost hunting privileges for two and four years, with the shooter getting the stiffer penalty.

Sadly, this bust is the exception, not the rule. A limited budget and minimal staff stretches game managers constantly trying to keep hunters in line. Jurisdictions run hundreds of thousands of acres, and most hunting occurs deep in the woods, far from wardens’ watchful eyes.

But while we would have been disappointed if our most recent urban hunters were let off, we certainly can relate to wanting to stick the fattest—and most convenient—buck possible.

Clearly, any Missoula hunter who has risen early to get to her “secret spot” in the pre-dawn has likely had to brake for some brazen, mid-street buck seemingly taunting the sucker about to drive countless miles in hopes of seeing another one in the wild. Meanwhile, that grass-fed venison is getting fatter munching on your apple tree.

Some call this a deer “problem,” but we think otherwise. Those consciously living in our self-proclaimed Last Best Place should be willing to share our home range with those who lived here first, at least in reasonable numbers.

But that’s not always the case. Take Helena: If left unattended, that city’s 700 deer will double in three years, causing officials to initiate a $30,000 culling plan that pays cops to trap and whack 50 deer this year, using nets and bolt guns. Missoula needs a better, more practical solution, one that sees urban deer not as a “nuisance,” but as an opportunity.

Fortunately, we have a template. On September 25, FWP adopted the “Ekalaka Urban Deer Plan,” calling for “making public archery hunting/harvest available for prescribed application within the town.” The plan appropriately requires the consent of city and county officials, FWP and the local sheriff’s office.

A similarly limited-in-scope and carefully monitored plan would serve Missoula well. It could inexpensively reduce road kill, limit damage caused by deer and even allow urban archers to fill their freezers—without road tripping to Ekalaka.
Montana’s general rifle season opens this Sunday, October 26. Elections fall just eight days later. In other words, this is “chicken in every pot” season. Let’s fill ’em.
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