Driving home the other night we spotted what is becoming a familiar site on the shoulders along Rattlesnake Drive: a mortally wounded, yet very much alive, whitetail doe.
She was four-quarters crippled and trying her damnedest to hobble off the road and into a nearby field but her grim progress was stymied by a six-foot tall fence.
Having just returned from sighting in our rifles for opening day, we had enough firepower in the rig to hold off federal marshals, but due to state laws preventing us from shooting deer in the city (not to mention the potential hazard of doing so) we were utterly helpless to put the doe out of her misery.
Unfortunately situations like this have become a frequent occurrence, according to Fish, Wildlife & Parks enforcement officer Jeff Darrah.
“This is getting to be a pretty big problem in Missoula,” Darrah says. “Most of the time if the deer is in an urban interface we’ll get the phone call and we’ll go put them down.”
Sometimes injured animals can recover and go on to survive in an urban environment where there is plenty of food and few predators (except cars). So Darrah advises that people leave injured deer alone in most cases to give them a chance to live.
But this deer wasn’t going anywhere. It was only a matter of time before she’d be just another rotting carcass on the side of one of Missoula’s streets.
Eventually a police officer stopped at the scene and discretely dispatched the doe with a small caliber pistol shot to the head. But for those of us who hunt and have been trained our entire lives to do everything we can to harvest wounded game, to waste no part of an animal, to make sure all of the meat makes it to the freezer, the idea of the carcass ending up in the landfill was tough to stomach.
The following morning a familiar brown lump appeared on the side of the road about half a mile south of where another big deer was less than 15 hours cold. A crossing guard stood nearby waiting for the morning dash of school children. Yet one more doe lay on the side of the road, wounded and watching as cars sped by on their morning commute.
In a city with large tracts of open space that naturally attract critters that all too frequently end up splattered across our streets, perhaps city officials and wildlife managers should consider a limited urban archery hunt to help control deer populations. After all, we’d rather see those deer on a dinner plate than a windshield.