Eric Atherton: Future is grim for deer with no fear of humans

A couple weeks ago, Heidi Bagniewski walked out of her home in Stockton and was met with an unusual sight. A deer stood on her driveway, looking at her with no sign of fear.

Jack Bagniewski, 6, has his pockets inspected for food by a young deer in Stockton. The deer, which appears to be a year-old buck, has no fear of people and has become a regular sight for Stockton residents.

A couple weeks ago, Heidi Bagniewski walked out of her home in Stockton and was met with an unusual sight. A deer stood on her driveway, looking at her with no sign of fear.

That, she knew, wasn't a good thing.

"Someone has domesticated this animal to the point that it isn't afraid of anybody," she said on Tuesday. "I have a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old, and this deer has let them pet it, let them touch it. He's stuck his head inside my daughter's bedroom window. If I held the front door open, I think he'd walk right in."

The young buck has become a very familiar sight in the area. "He makes his rounds," Bagniewski said. "From what I understand, he has been up in the Lewiston area, which is about seven miles from our house. He's been wandering."

Bagniewski is a deer hunter, but she and her family don't want the deer to end up in someone's freezer, or worse yet, fall victim to a vehicle as it crosses Highway 14 near their home. "It isn't fair to him," she said. "He didn't ask to be domesticated. It's not nature's way for him to be hit by a car."


She said she's contacted the DNR and the police, but neither offered any non-lethal solutions. To Bagniewski, that's unacceptable. "He needs to be in a refuge of some kind."

Becoming zoo animal 'complicated'

Tom Ryan, Olmsted County Parks Supervisor and the former director of Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo, said this situation is unfortunate for the deer and potentially dangerous to people in the area.

"This is either a game-farm release or a deer that someone raised from a fawn last year," he said. "It seems like every four or five years, there's a tame deer running around knocking people over when they're going to their mailbox. When a fawn grows up without fear of humans, the potential problem is that they start seeing people as part of their herd, and what can happen then is them rising up, using their hooves. In the case of a buck, in the fall when its testosterone levels are up, bad things can happen."

Ryan said that although it is possible for a wild animal to be taken into a zoo, it's a complicated process and in this case would be highly unlikely.

"There's always a concern that some diseases will come in with an animal," he said. "And with concerns about chronic wasting disease in our area, things are even more touchy right now. To be honest, I don't foresee a good ending for this deer."

Ultimately, perhaps the only good that will come of this situation will be if it becomes a cautionary tale, a warning that when people find an apparently abandoned fawn in late May or early June, they should simply walk away. The odds are good that a doe is somewhere nearby, waiting for the people to leave before it returns to the fawn.

The DNR issues such warnings every year, and every year a few people ignore this good advice.


I'm betting that Bagniewski, her family and other Stockton residents are seeing the unfortunate outcome of someone's interference with nature.

It should go without saying that if you're driving through Stockton, you'd be well-advised to slow down and be ready to hit the brakes.

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