Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hunter keeps runway clear of deer: Watertown Municipal Airport (KRYV), Wisconsin

Hunter Scott Kirchoff surveys the cover for deer near the runway at Watertown Municipal Airport.

Deer hunting season may be over, but local sportsman Scott Kirchoff has found a way to enjoy his hobby all year while making the runways at Watertown Municipal Airport a safer place to land.

Kirchoff is responsible for reducing the white-tailed deer population at the airport where their increasing numbers have become a hazard for aircraft traffic.

Kirchoff said he's been hunting the airport several times a week, year-round, since August of 2014. So far he has killed 22 deer.

Several years ago, Jeff Baum, president of Wisconsin Aviation, experienced the problem himself when two deer ran onto the runway while he was landing.

"It was a fairly sizable corporate airplane, and the deer caused over $50,000 worth of damage," Baum said. "We've had at least two other aircraft that I know of that have hit deer out here."

Baum said ducks, geese, pheasant, foxes and coyotes have also presented a problem for airplane traffic.

"The wildlife issue is not just confined to Watertown," Baum said. "It's a nationwide issue. From our perspective, we believe human life is far more valuable than animal life. Whatever measures can be taken, should be taken."

"The Watertown airport has had many issues with birds, but also deer due to the lack of fencing around the whole perimeter, facilities manager Krys Brown said.

Brown said she approached the Department of Natural Resources and applied for wildlife damage tags in hopes of reducing the problem.

"Dan, one of our employees who knows Scott, referred him as a very experienced deer hunter," Brown said. "I talked to the DNR regarding him and they highly recommended him as well, so I thought it would be safer to have one professional person to rely on to help get rid of the deer."

It would be hard to find a more qualified man for the job. Kirchoff has over four decades of hunting experience and has been teaching hunter safety classes for more that 15 years. He was awarded Instructor of the Year by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2013.

Kirchoff is quick to point out that safety is his No. 1 priority.

"I'm very particular about the shots I take, and I've passed up many more shots than I've taken. I don't shoot unless I have a safe backstop," he said. "To date most of the shots have been one-shot kills with the deer dropping in their tracks."

He also uses lower velocity ammunition that expands rapidly on impact so the bullets don't pass through the deer and ricochet.

Brown said Kirchoff's efforts have impacted the airport in a very positive way.

"He has reduced the deer population and has made it safer so pilots are more comfortable knowing we have someone working on this problem," Brown said.

Kirchoff said all of the deer he has harvested have been utilized. They are given to employees of the airport as well as family and friends.

Kirchoff also uses some of the deer in the "Learning to Hunt for Food" class he teaches. He instructs new adult hunters how to skin and butcher deer, as well as other wild game, and prepare them for the table.

"Several deer were used by myself and the DNR for these classes," Kirchoff said. "One of the local deer processors was gracious enough to let me use his walk-in cooler in the middle of summer, and we were able to bring the class out there for a butchering demonstration."

Kirchoff hunts for the airport on a volunteer basis and works full-time as a troubleshooter for an electric utility.

"It's been a win-win for all of us," Kirchoff added. "I've definitely put a dent in the herd and they're getting wiser. Hopefully they are learning the runway isn't a safe place for them."

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