Years ago, during the last of the 20th century, before district game wardens spent so much of their time on ATV and snowmobile enforcement and searching for lost dementia patients, they had more time for pure conservation enforcement.
In the early spring, game wardens typically patrolled their districts with an eye out for domestic dogs chasing down winter-weakened deer in flight atop the disappearing March snow crust. If you look back in the game warden archives from the 1960s, it is astonishing to see what a big problem we had with family pets dogging vulnerable deer.
The following excerpts, from what were then called Warden Field Notes, tell the story:
Warden Olin Jackson, South China: Dog complaints picked up this week. Dogs can now run very well on the snow, but the deer break through. The deer are yarded up this year in this area and seem to be staying where the woods operations are going on.
Warden George Nash, Jefferson: Nothing but dog complaints. It seems that every dog in the country is on the loose. Not seeing many deer signs unless they are ahead of a dog.
Warden Winfield Gordon, Warren: This has been a rough week on deer. Dogs have been doing a lot of driving. Deep snow and a good crust makes it good for the dogs. Since March, I have had seven deer killed by dogs. These are the ones I know of, and it must be a larger number that I don’t know about.
Warden George Nash, Jefferson: Very little open water for fishing. A lot of dog trouble this week. Three dogs put a deer through my dooryard this week.
What about today? Are domestic dogs still chasing deer in April? I put this question to Warden Lt. Aaron Cross.
“Although still an issue, we have game wardens respond to several of these complaints every year, we do not see as many incidents of dogs chasing deer as we did back in the days of old,” Cross said. “I think that there are many reasons why this is the case. We see more compliance with leash laws, stricter enforcement of laws relating to animal control and dog ownership and good public outreach and education on the harmful effects that are caused by dogs chasing deer in the early spring, to name a few.”
Pet owners have always resisted the idea that their beloved Fido would chase down a deer. But, in the company of other domestic dogs, if given the opportunity, they will do it. Dogs are no different than they were 50 years ago.
There is a law in Title 12 that speaks to owning a dog that has been found chasing a deer or moose. This is a civil violation with a fine of up to $500. If the dog kills or wounds a deer or moose, that fine could elevate to $1,000.
It’s a good idea, if you live near deer country, to know your dog’s whereabouts, especially this time of the year!
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]