Deer in Headlights: Whitetail Populations Soar Across the Midwest

Missouri and Midwest; Winter-Spring 2012-13

by Jason Tobin

Town and Country, Missouri, is the quintessential setting for wealthy suburban living. Situated about 12 miles west of St. Louis, the exclusive enclave has long been considered one of the premier locales for the upper class of St. Louis County. Strict residential zoning and few commercial zones have made intensive development impossible, which has led to Town and Country maintaining much of its pastoral vibe. Not to mention its elite status. According to the City Data website, as of 2009, the average home was worth $840,811 and 56.5 percent of Town and Country students attended private school.

Town and Country was first incorporated as a village in 1950 and was initially a farming community before transitioning to a high-end, low-density suburb. The farms have disappeared and been replaced with white picket fences, but over time the topographic make-up has remained unchanged. An abundance of open space still exists. All this room has created ideal grazing lands for whitetailed deer. Considering humans are the only natural predator left in the area, the deer population began to skyrocket in the 1980s.

At first, many of the residents loved having the deer around, but by the mid-’90s the overall sentiment had changed. The deer were becoming more of a nuisance as they mowed down ornamental bushes and flowers and increased the threat of car accidents. In the winter of 1999, the city of Town and County partnered with the Missouri Department of Conservation to start a deer-relocation project. Nonlethal means were adopted to manage the deer population and, according to the Deer Task Force summary findings, 233 deer were trapped and relocated between 1999 and 2001. This approach proved problematic because it showed little signs of significantly reducing the deer population, and the relocated deer felt the negative effects of moving to a new home. The Wildlife Society Bulletin reported in 2002 that 55 of the relocated deer died within a year, of which 16 died from capture myopathy (a muscular defect associated with environmental stress).

In October 2011, government officials in Town and Country gave the go-ahead to begin a sharpshooting program within the city to reduce the deer herd. A private company called White Buffalo was hired to execute the sharpshooting. Homeowners in support of the project gave permission for White Buffalo to hunt on their property. The program did not come without its detractors, though. In late December, citizens held a vigil to protest the city’s use of lethal methods to manage the deer population. According to local KSDK news, residents accused White Buffalo of shooting deer in broad daylight.

Capt. Gary Hoelzer is the staffer responsible for carrying out the deer management policy for the city of Town and Country. He works as the Operations Division Command for the Town and Country Police Department. His duties have included coordinating the hunts conducted by White Buffalo. The goal of the program is to get the deer population density down from the 2011 total of 66 per square mile to 30 per square mile.