Whether they’ve been scared off by the prospect of being culled or just busy rutting, deer have cleared away from bush near the Fort Frances Airport in recent weeks.
“As of late, there hasn’t been any [deer activity],” airport superintendent Bill Caul said yesterday.
“They kind of disappeared on us.
“We have the culling permit in place, but pretty much since we started that program, the deer virtually disappeared,” he noted.
Brad Houghton, president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club, confirmed members culled three deer at the airport last month.
“After we shot them, they seemed to go away for a while,” he said. “But this time of year, they stay back in the bush anyway.
“When the rut’s over, they’ll come back.
Houghton added it is the height of the rut right now, but it could be over in another week or so, depending on the weather.
As such, the airport might have problems again before the end of the year, in which case airport staff will let the sportsmen’s club know if the deer are becoming a nuisance.
“The problem is the grass on the infield,” noted Houghton. “They keep that plowed pretty good, so there’s always easy food for them.”
Several sportsmen’s club members, including Houghton, went out to the airport the night of Oct. 22 and shot two deer.
“There was a whole whack of deer out, and even after we culled two, they still had to go chase a couple away from the front of a plane while we were still there,” Houghton recalled.
They then returned Oct. 24, and culled a third deer.
“The first night we shot a buck and a doe, and then the fawn that was with the doe, we culled it two days later,” Houghton said.
“It would have still kept coming out in the same spot anyway,” he explained.
“Big fawn, though.”
Houghton said the culling permit the town got through the Ministry of Natural Resources originally was to be for bow hunting only, but was amended to include rifles, which were used to cull the three deer.
He added archery could have been effective if the cull was called for earlier this year. But once it get colder and the deer are in rut, it’s not possible to get close enough to them and so it’s more effective to use rifles.
As previously reported, the town got a culling permit from the MNR this past summer to allow them to call sportsmen’s club members to come on airport property and shoot the deer if their numbers got out of hand.
But the cull was not called for “until it was necessary,” stressed Caul, which this year ended up being in mid- to late-October.
Summarizing the overall deer traffic at the airport for the year, Caul said it wasn’t worse than last year but the numbers were high.
During routine wildlife checks of the runway area, the number of deer sighted by airport staff ranged from a half-dozen to 37 at one time.
“They would come out in the evening and go back in the bush at daylight,” noted Caul.
Fortunately, there were no incidents involving deer and planes.
In the past couple of years, one private aircraft hit a deer while it was landing, causing serious damage to the plane.
In another incident, a Bearskin airplane hit a deer with its landing gear while it was taking off (although there was no damage to the aircraft).
Back in early August, the town installed motion detection noise equipment at the main deer trails near the airport. But Caul said they didn’t end up working that well as a deterrent.
“It did initially, but all it did was change the deer’s pattern, so instead of coming out where the noise-makers were, they just came out in a different location,” he explained.
“They weren’t effective at all.”
Looking at a long-term solution, the town has applied for funding under Transport Canada’s Capital Assistance Program for perimeter fencing to keep deer away from the airport.
If they get it, the funding will be used for a 5,800-metre long, eight-foot high, specially-designed fixed-knot fence, which would cost about $300,000.
The federal government informed Caul earlier this year that any decision regarding the application would be deferred until next year, but he is hopeful the town will hear back about the funding in the spring so it can tender the project and get a fence in place as early as possible.
Normally the deer don’t start coming out of the bush until late April, but last year, because of the early thaw, they were wandering onto airport property by March.