Deer culling strays into Bryn Mawr, worrying area residents

John Ursu's daughters watch deer out their window, about 60 feet from the site of the deer culling. Credit: Submitted by John Ursu

A contractor for the city of St. Louis Park erroneously shot at deer in the wooded wetland near Franklin & Ewing the morning of Jan. 23, spurring loud protest from surrounding residents.

Superior Whitetail Management staff were culling 23 deer as part of St. Louis Park’s deer management program. Why they strayed into Minneapolis is not known, and the incident is under investigation.

Neighbors who heard gun shots called 911 around 7 a.m., assuming they saw poachers pulling a deer out of the wetland. A pile of corn baited deer 50 feet off the roadway, said resident Chad Smude. 

Tom Harmening, city manager of St. Louis Park, apologized to residents at a community meeting Feb. 5.

“Obviously they did something that they weren’t supposed to do,” Harmening said. “I can’t explain it. … We are incredibly sorry for what happened.”

A bus stop is located at Franklin & Ewing, and resident KimRamey said three families with small children live near the site.

“One of the kids woke up that morning to gun shots,” she said. “This seems absolutely crazy.”

Nearby resident John Ursu showed an iPhone photo of his daughters watching deer out the window, about 60 feet away from the site of the shooting. He questioned what degree of background check is necessary to authorize people to shoot guns in urban environments.

“This is pretty scary for me,” he said. “I don’t know what it takes to be able to fire a firearm in our community.”

St. Louis Park has fired the contractor. DNR officials said charges will likely be filed in the case, although it is still uncertain which agency will file the charges.

Harmening said contractors typically cull deer in the late evening or early morning, using copper slugs that fragment when they hit the deer. He said contractors are typically directed to shoot near the Westwood Hills Nature Center, the Bass Lake area, near the radio towers west of Highway 100, in the vicinity of Twin Lakes, and in northeast St. Louis Park on city-owned land north of the tracks.

The city of Golden Valley also issues shooting permits for deer management, according to the DNR.

Minneapolis residents raised many questions about the deer management practice. Some questioned the use of firearms to cull deer, suggesting archery instead. In response, officials said deer shot with arrows often run far distances before collapsing.

Residents also asked how far the bullets could travel (DNR officials were not certain of the answer), and others brought up larger issues regarding the sufficiency of local wildlife habitat. Others worried about a situation escalating if confused neighbors, carrying firearms themselves, confront contractors firing shots near their neighborhoods.

Several residents expressed concern that St. Louis Park had quietly stopped notifying residents of deer culling operations.

“This is where I run at night,” one resident said. “I’m out a lot at night, and I walk my dog through the swamp. … He likes to chase the deer.”

Harmening said the City Council made its decision on notification in the mid-90s, when people sabotaged deer traps and worked to block deer management efforts.

“There was a concern that if they informed people of the specifics of what was going to happen, that might compromise public safety even more,” he said.

Harmening said St. Louis Park will likely review its policy for selecting contractors, and perhaps review its community notification strategy.

“The bottom line is to prevent this from happening again,” said State Representative Frank Hornstein, who organized the recent community meeting with Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman.