Cold and hungry deer crowding Butte County ranchers

Published: Jan. 17, 2017 at 7:01 PM CST
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The Christmas Blizzard that came on the heels of a drought is making conditions tough on wildlife.

And also for farmers and ranchers in the irrigated ag land along the Belle Fourche River in Butte County where waves of deer are congregating.

Huge herds of hungry deer gravitate to the irrigated valley because -- well -- that's where the green forage and livestock feed is.

It's gotten so bad in the last couple of weeks that wildlife officials have authorized dozens of special off-season “pool hunts” to trim the herd.

“In my almost 20 years as a conservation officer I don't believe I've seen this much wildlife damage as a result of a severe winter,” said Bill Eastman from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

The deer were so thick that at one of the pool hunts that 27 deer tags were filled in less than two hours.

“This is probably as bad as we've seen,” said rancher Randy Vallery.

Game Fish and parks crews are also using other methods to mitigate the losses.

“We use a technique called short stopping,” said Eastman. “We bring food out between the deer’s bedding area and the farmer or rancher’s stored hay and, hopefully, the deer find our stuff and eat our stuff rather than keep affecting the rancher.”

Not everyone is upset at the circumstances. Eastman was out in a hay field Tuesday and looked at some tracks in the snow.

“Red fox tracks,” he said. “They are natural predators within this area and there certainly enjoying the fact that that winter is having its toll on these deer. Much better meal to eat a deer than a small mouse for these guys.”

And the problem doesn’t seem to be going away.

Eastman received two more calls from landowners seeking help while this reporter was in the field with him.