Giant City Slickers
Each summer we see pictures circulating of gigantic bucks lounging in the shade of a tree on a green lawn. These pictures are motivating but very much taunting in nature and epitomize the struggle between habitat and development. The scene captured in these photos is very telling of current and future wildlife challenges. Out West deer managers are having to deal more and more with deer/human conflicts within city limits. These herds have even been coined “urban deer”. Urban deer herds have increased exponentially over the last several decades and become a major component of mule deer management plans. There are several reasons why deer are moving to urban areas, some obvious and other not as obvious. Some of the obvious reasons are that humans are encroaching further and further into deer habitat and replacing it with development. Human encroachment either takes away the habitat the development is on or fragments the habitat and makes it impossible for deer to migrate as they once did. Other less obvious factors may include diminished habitat quality due to invasive vegetation which makes those green lawns, gardens, flowerbeds, and pastures within city limits even more tempting. Surprisingly a lot of mule deer are adapting quite well and thriving in city limits.
Bucks with Notoriety
Many of these city slicker bucks are becoming famous as they grow year after year with little threat from predators and hunters. Some of these bucks grow extraordinarily large antlers and become regionally and even nationally famous thanks to the internet. Take “Buck Norris” for example. This buck lived mostly within the Bend, OR city limits and was known across the country, he even had his own facebook page.
Buck Norris was killed eventually by an vehicle, a considerable threat to urban deer. In Utah there was the “Cemetery buck” who loved the sanctuary of a Salt Lake City cemetery. He ended up leaving city limits and was legally harvested by an archer. Although harvested legally the hunter faced a lot of backlash and scrutiny because so many had come to know this buck as a local legend. Even fellow hunters voiced their disdain saying they would not have shot him knowing he was the cemetery buck.
Not all of these city bucks perish by accident, legal hunter, or of old age. These big city bucks have somewhat of a cult following but the people following have different reasons for keeping an eye on them. Some sportsman watch and daydream about seeing such a buck while hunting. Other hunters watch hoping the buck makes a mistake and leaves the city during a hunting season. Some simply come just to enjoy wildlife close to home and see the local celebrity. But there are those that are scheming who are NOT sportsmen. The antler lust is just too much until one day the buck ends up dead and/or missing.
Several urban bucks are falling victims of poaching and creating more work for conservation officers. The funny thing is you can’t fix dumb and poaching one of these urban legends is as dumb as it gets. With hundreds people keeping watch on these bucks it’s nearly impossible to get away with it. Sometimes the dumb get dumber and end up posting pictures of the buck on the internet. The highly photographed and locally loved Hyde Park, Utah, buck suddenly disappeared one day during the hunting season only to be seen shortly after on a hunting website with the proud poacher holding the head and cape in a garage. The Logan Herald Journal reports that 36-year-old Garland resident Shelby D. Rhodes and 28-year-old Logan resident Steven Spillett plead guilty to the killing the buck many considered a pet.
These urban deer seem to be a growing part of today’s urban sprawl and costing money, time, and resources for municipalities, citizens, and wildlife agencies. The question that everyone can’t agree on is what to do with them.
Read about habitat and population trends HISTORIC AND FUTURE