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Bold deer with large appetites are overrunning some rural farms and ranches, prompting the Nevada Wildlife Department to start ordering depredation hunts to trim the near-record state herd population.

Ely rancher Ernest Ulrich said Wednesday that the scheduled Dec. 9-13 hunt just outside his property is long overdue."They're eating up everything I have," Ulrich said from his farm about 30 miles southwest of Ely and near the Utah border. "I've been here 15 years, and this is the worst I've ever seen it.

"They come down to the field two hours before dark and stay all night eating. If you shoot over their heads to scare them off, they just look you in the eye or come right back after you leave. They aren't afraid any-more."

Ulrich said he normally cuts at least 22 tons of alfalfa each year from his fields but this year took in only about 4 tons because as many as 300 deer were eating his crop.

"Now, there's about 75 or 80 deer left, and they're not leaving," he said. "They're right in there with the cattle and the horses, too."

Dave Rice, a spokesman for the Department of Wildlife, said the state wildlife commission approved a regulation earlier this year giving the agency the ability to order depredation hunts to thin destructive deer herds. Under Nevada law, the state has an obligation to protect ranchers and farmers from damage caused by wildlife, Rice said.

"We'll probably have quite a few depredation hunts this year because the problem is the deer population keeps growing," he said. "In this particular hunt, the area is dry and there's a lack of suitable forage so the deer are eating the fields."

Thirty-five deer tags will be sold at $15 each on a first-come, first-serve basis for the five-day depredation hunt limited to an area within a three-mile radius of state Highway 6 and the Ellison Creek Road turn-off near the Ulrich Farm. Male and female deer can be killed.

This year, the total Nevada deer population is estimated to be 211,934, which is down from the rec-ord high of 251,326 set in 1988 but about double the herd numbers in the state 10 years ago, according to Rice.

"Since 1976, the population has grown because of a relatively favorable weather pattern," Rice said. "And we've been managing the herds much better."

A total of 34,790 regular deer hunting tags have been sold this year compared to 57,155 last year, according to the Wildlife Department. The Nevada deer herds were reduced quite a bit by a harsh winter a year ago that following a two-year drought, however, Rice said.

"Last year, we were losing deer in September, October and November before the winter even hit," he said. "There were some big losses, but there's still a lot of deer out there."