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Airport considers Deer Shield device

A device similar to this could be used to emit a noise to keep deer away from the Mitchell Municipal Airport. (Photo courtesy of Deer Shield)

No deer has ever been struck by an airplane at the Mitchell Municipal Airport, Airport Manager Mike Scherschligt said, but he isn't waiting for it to happen the first time.

Scherschligt is planning to purchase a device to scare deer away from the city airport. The Airport Board is considering buying Deer Shield, an electronic system.

"The board is very interested in it," Scherschligt said.

An industrial Deer Shield would cost about $1,000, he said. The board is studying it and may decide to buy it and have it installed this year.

"We're always looking for proof that something works before we go too far," Scherschligt said.

Airport staff and the board have studied other approaches over the years. This seems like the best alternative now, Scherschligt said.

According to the Deer Shield website, "Digital recordings of alarmed, hostile and territorial deer are broadcast (audible to humans) through high fidelity weather-resistant speakers to trigger a primal fear and flee response.

"Deer soon relocate to where they can feed without feeling threatened. Deer soon change their feeding and travel patterns to avoid the area completely."

That's something Scherschligt would like to see. Deer are frequent visitors at the airport on the north edge of Mitchell, which does not have any commercial passenger service but does handle a lot of planes during pheasant hunting season.

Wright Brothers Aviation is based at the airport. There were 2,442 landings in 2011, and an equal number of departures.

A 10-foot high fence surrounds the airport. It extends 6¼ miles.

A higher fence would cost a great deal more money than the Deer Shield and would be difficult to engineer and maintain, Scherschligt said.

Despite the high fence, which has been up for eight years, and efforts to keep gates closed, deer often appear inside the airport grounds.

"We're thinking they can jump it, as crazy as it sounds," Scherschligt said. "Deer approach a fence, and it doesn't matter what's on the other side, they think they have to get on the other side."

The airport was built in 1945 and he said there are no reports of a deer coming into contact with a plane, or of deer causing problems in any other way.

But pilots report seeing them on the runaways and in other places, so Scherschligt said it seems wise to deal with the problem before there is an incident.

"You wouldn't believe wildlife, the way they come after a fence," he said. "It's almost under attack on a daily basis."

Scherschligt said right now, if a deer can't be persuaded to exit the airport through a gate, he or a Mitchell police officer shoot it. The meat is donated to the Salvation Army, he said.