Deer, elk wreaking havoc on hay bales

Johnathan Hettinger
Thursday, March 21, 2019

A half a dozen mule deer stand atop a bale, grazing on the green hay.

A half a dozen mule deer stand atop a bale, grazing on the green hay.

PARADISE VALLEY — On a sunny, slightly above freezing Thursday afternoon, March 14, half a dozen mule deer stand atop a bale, grazing the green hay near their feet. Dozens more graze the hay that had been spread by hundreds of animals in the field near Mill Creek Road and U.S. Highway 89 over the past few weeks.

As the mule deer took their turn, about 300 head of elk basked in the sunlight about 100 yards away.

Ranch Manager Paul Schram has given up. This is their field now.

With more than 4 feet of snow since Feb. 1, elk and mule deer have found food wherever they can, including in ranch fields, where hay bales are accessible. Once they find food, they prob- ably aren’t going to leave it until the snow melts and new grass pops up.

“It’s a problem pretty much from Ringling to Emigrant,” said Drew Scott, game warden with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Win- ter came a little late, but we’re seeing firsthand with the amount of snow we had, they gotta go where they gotta go.”

In Schram’s field, elk and deer have done thousands of dollars of damage to the bales. They also have done damage to nearby fences and wheel-line irrigation systems, especially when pass-

ersby stop and take photos and spook the wildlife.

Scott said that FWP has assistance for ranchers whose property is damaged, but Schram said he isn’t sure if his ranch will be eligible.

The field is relatively new, just being used for hay in the past five years, Schram said. Wildlife hadn’t been a problem, so there was no permanent fence on the property.

“If we didn’t have so much stinking snow right now, it wouldn’t be such an issue,” Schram said.

In recent weeks, Schram has tried anything he could, but the animals don’t scare anymore.

“Me chasing them off, hazing or shooting the shotgun in the air to scare them a little bit doesn’t do anything any more,” he said.

Schram, who has a 4-month- old, said when the baby wakes in the night, he’ll often go try and scare the wildlife away, by park- ing vehicles there, with headlights and stereos blaring.

“They’re not deterred by anything because they don’t have anything to eat,” Schram said.

Schram said he will construct a fence for next year.

Scott said large herds are also near Clyde Park and Wilsall, and for now, the elk and deer will be there until the snow melts.

“It’s survival of the fittest, and they’re hungry,” Scott said.

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