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Published September 07, 2010, 09:46 AM

Plaza, ND, rancher was angered by deer damage

PLAZA, N.D. — Bob Patten isn’t your average trouble maker. At age 79, he lives on a farmstead homesteaded by his family in 1906. “I farmed until I was 73,” he says.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

PLAZA, N.D. — Bob Patten isn’t your average trouble maker. At age 79, he lives on a farmstead homesteaded by his family in 1906.

“I farmed until I was 73,” he says.

He was a 4-H leader and served on the development board in Plaza, N.D., when they built a mall. He was the chairman of the school board for 15 years and served on his church board.

“I had an auction sale and sold my machinery and cattle, but kept the quarter horses as a hobby business,” he says. “I breed ’em to sell — all registered and DNA-tested.” He has 21 mares and one stud horse, and does a lot of artificial breeding, for a total of 50 when he has young stock. “There’s always been a few deer here,” Patten says, noting that he’s “replanted trees many times,” because of them. “You kind of accept that.”

But in winter 2008 to ’09, it got “really out of hand.” He noticed that 500 deer were congregating in a field about three-quarters of a mile away.

“I called the game warden in Stanley (N.D.) and said, ‘There’s going to be trouble. They’re bunching up.’ He said he couldn’t do anything. He didn’t want to start feeding them and he can’t drive them. I called him twice. Same answer.”

When the deer started coming into his yard, he called the Williston, N.D., district manager. This time, they brought some feed — but only three bales. Patten’s nephew, who rents his farmland, took a tractor and plowed snow to get the bales into the field.

“That didn’t do anything, because once they started into your yard, they come back and forth,” Patten says

The costs mount

About 150 deer would be in his yard at a time. They’d eat out the sides of the bales and climb on top of them. Game and Fish officials came and covered the hay with mixed results.

The farmstead has a septic system, with an electrical plug-in outdoors. The deer got next to that and knocked it out. The sewer system backed up, costing $25,000 in cleanup and remodeling to his basement and walls. Homeowners insurance covered $7,000 of that.

Randy Kreil, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife director, says it’s unfortunates Patten’s system was unplugged.

Kreil says the department offered to work with Patten to put up a deer-proof hay yard. Patten says he put one up eight years ago, but had put it next to a building, not out in the open where they’d suggested. He says he needs to keep hay spread around so that he can get it to the various horse pens, by age and sex. “I’m alone on the tractor,” he says.

Patten complained to Kreil about his problems and said he’d talked to Patten’s neighbors, who told him Patten wouldn’t let them hunt on his property.

“I told him that was a damn lie,” Patten says. “If they ask me, I haven’t refused unless someone else has asked ahead of time.”

Kreil says the department’s help for depredation isn’t connected to whether a landowner allows hunting anyway.

“All I know is that people who have lived close to him — neighbors — that he’s not very good to let people hunt,” Kreil says.

Patten, who had knee surgery just before Christmas of that year, would step outside and shoot over the deer when they gathered around his bale feeder.

“They were thick in the trees, and I must have hit two or three of them,” says Patten, who claims he didn’t intend to shoot any deer.

Soon, a Game and Fish officer came with a warrant for his rifle. They had it for three months and then returned it.

“I told him, ‘Aren’t you going to charge me? Because if you do, we’ll have a jury trial.’ They said, no, the bullet was damaged too much for that,” he says.

Kreil says Patten had unacceptable hopes.

“He wanted us to chase the deer someplace else,” Kreil says. “You can’t run deer 25 miles to somebody else’s place. We did try to harass them away, using snowmobiles, but his expectations of our ability to manage deer like they’re livestock was something we couldn’t live up to.”

Patten says there was a place about three miles away that could have held the deer.

Kreil says the department was trying to intercept-feed the deer, “but the only cover for miles around was Patten’s place.”

Patten says he’s angry about the economic losses. In the spring, he had to haul hay 100 miles and paid $100 a ton for it

Worse, he lost four of his colts to severe diarrhea, which he says would have been worth a total of about $25,000 when market-ready. The diagnostic laboratory at North Dakota State University determined it was Clostridium perfringens, Type C., which is carried by ruminants, including deer. He had to vaccinate his other mares and now has to vaccinate all of them all of the time.