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Altoona changes regulations to make deer hunting easier within city limits

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Joe Knight, Leader-Telegram staff

Hunting deer within Altoona's city limits will be a bit easier this fall.

The city recently revamped its deer hunting rules to comply with a state law approved in December that imposes fewer restrictions on hunters in urban settings. The bow and crossbow seasons opened Saturday.

"Before there was a stipulation that you had to get permission from your neighbors to hunt on your own land. The state (law) knocked that out," Altoona Mayor Jack Blackburn said.

Eau Claire went through a similar process this summer, and some other Wisconsin municipalities also have altered their hunting regulations because of increased deer populations in those areas that lead to the animals eating garden vegetation and causing other damage.

Altoona used to require that residents have at least a 1-acre parcel to hunt on and have permission from their neighbors. But when the Altoona City Council approved its new regulations in August, it decided permission from neighbors and a minimum lot size are no longer hunting requirements.

However, trespass laws still require permission to go on a neighbor's land to retrieve a deer.

The new law requires that arrows from bows or crossbows be shot toward the ground from an elevated position, so if the hunter misses, the arrow hits the ground. The law also allows municipalities to limit how close hunters can be to neighboring buildings. Like Eau Claire, Altoona set that distance at 50 yards.

"We tried to be as lenient as we could," Blackburn said. "What all these laws are designed to do is to stack the deck against the deer population."

Abundant deer

At one time Altoona city officials hired sharpshooters to kill deer, but City Council member Ray Henning said a public bowhunt is a better idea.

"We've had better success when we got rid of the paid snipers and let the public do it," he said.

But Blackburn noted the city still has plenty of deer, adding he still sees lots of the animals on his two-acre property along Lake Altoona.

"We long ago learned that you really don't plant anything out there. The only flowers we can plant are marigolds because (deer) don't like those," he said.

Besides damaging plants, deer carry another nuisance in the form of Lyme disease.

"I have contracted Lyme disease since I moved to Altoona," Blackburn said.

Altoona has an ordinance against feeding deer and other non-domestic animals, but that has been modified for the purpose of hunting deer. City Administrator Mike Golat said the new state rules also restrict municipalities from banning baiting for hunting.

Roughly half the state is closed to baiting because of concerns of spreading chronic wasting disease. In counties where it is allowed, including Eau Claire County, bait is limited to two gallons or less per day.

Since the urban hunt began in Altoona in 2004, bowhunters have shot 208 deer within the city limits. Of those, 158 were registered with the free nuisance permits the state Department of Natural Resources shared with the city, said Ann Lein, administrative assistant and deer coordinator for the city.

The DNR has informed city officials this will be the last year the city will have authority to issue those permits.

Knight can be reached at 715-830-5835, 800-236-7077 or joe.knight@ecpc.com.

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