LIBBY — A mule deer that came to be an informal mascot around downtown Libby has been killed by a game warden following complaints about the animal.
The 5-point buck was frequently seen in town over the past three years.
People took pictures and closely followed the deer’s exploits. The buck liked to pick apples from the tree behind Gene’s Body Shop; sometimes he stood on cars for a boost to higher-hanging fruit.
A town bank manager who noticed the friendly buck at the beginning of what became daily visits to his business named him Spanky.
Spanky met his demise Sept. 16 in a vacant lot downtown near the train tracks. He was put down by game warden Tamie Laverdure.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks began receiving calls about Spanky in early summer. Many complaints concerned the deer’s appetite for flowers. A few others reported Spanky rubbing his velveted antlers on cars, leaving scratches. One person reported a torn screen door.
Spanky’s gravest crime may have been growing too comfortable in town.
Returning home late one night, a Libby woman found Spanky resting directly in front of her front door. Unresponsive to animated “shoos,” Spanky finally budged when struck with a rock.
The woman reported that the buck stepped toward her in an aggressive manner. The woman and her husband filed a complaint with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
That set off a series of meetings involving state wildlife officials. Concerns were raised over the potential of a habituated buck getting aggressive and injuring a pet or person during mating season.
Laverdure wanted to tranquilize the deer and transplant him to a wild herd five miles outside town. But state wildlife rules prohibit such a move.
“It tears me up,” a distraught Laverdure said. “But last week we received a report that I have to take seriously.”
Some Libby residents wish things could have gone differently.
“My butt’s on fire about this,” longtime Libby taxidermist Jerry Mercer said. “I think they should have trapped, collared and moved him. They do that with plenty of animals. And now, one case of aggression and he can’t get a chance elsewhere?”
Before Spanky was dispatched, several attempts had been made to haze the buck out of town.
Laverdure and an intern sprayed the buck with pepper spray from close range. She also tried chasing the deer out of town with her vehicle, only to have him double back.
Laverdure gave out three cans of bear pepper spray following incidents with the buck.
Libby police received rubber shot last Friday with the recommendation of striking the buck. Those shots were never fired.
“The whole thing was a surprise,” Libby Police Chief Jim Smith said. “We had never received a complaint about him.”
Laverdure said the same choice would have been made had Spanky been a doe. She said people need to remember how to enjoy wildlife responsibly.
“These are wild animals,” Laverdure said. “People need to report others for feeding animals and discourage such behavior.”
Business owner Christi Ellwood said it would be a shame for Libby to lose its unique relationship with wildlife.
“I remember a TV show called ‘Northern Exposure,’” Ellwood said. “Libby is like that with animals walking around town. I think they are a representative totem of how Montanans are: independent and free.”
Mercer, the taxidermist and hunter, said he can recall several occasions when he has been challenged by wildlife.
“I’ve been chased by moose, mule deer, even fawns,” Mercer said. “It’s a cool part of living here. One time Jon Obst, the old game warden and now warden sergeant, and I went out and shot an aggressive mule deer with 10 rubber bullets. That animal decided he didn’t want to live here anymore. Jon is a good friend, but I really think they blew it on this one.”
The deer’s meat has been donated to the Libby Food Bank. Duane Rhodes of Montana Skull Works has volunteered to mount Spanky’s antlers, with plans to display them prominently.
Mercer fears changes to his town.
“People move out here and don’t like deer, elk and mountain lions in their yard. They try to make changes to make Libby more like where they came from. That’s just part of living here.”