The situation got so bad last year park staff started marking wayward deer with coloured paintballs when the creatures chased dogs or stared down children. Ones struck multiple times with paintball markets were removed from the park. But half the painted deer came back. At first the humans assumed aggressive behaviour was limited to females trying to protect fawns hidden in long grass and near garden planter boxes. That theory soon changed.
"It's females without fawns and even young males and there's no natural reason they should be doing that," said Johnston. Rather, aggressiveness has become a learned behaviour. "I think they just think it's fun."
The deer have grown too accustomed to the townspeople and the tourists, who feed them popcorn, candy and sandwiches in exchange for close-up photographs. It was time for a change of tactics.
First, Johnston ordered a raft of new signs to warn people of the danger. A company in Calgary produced four neon-yellow triangles depicting a black stick figure cowering under the raised hoofs of an attacking deer. Three of the signs were promptly stolen. More are on order.
Enter Christine Jobe, who has been training, breeding and working border collies since 1994. She's camped in a trailer in the town. Every morning at 6:30 she takes a few of her dogs on a hazing run of the town, hoping to discourage the deer from fawning. The deer see the dogs and bolt.
Although only in its first week, the hazing seems to be working. The deer bolt by sun up. But they soon come back, forcing Jobe to conduct up to four sweeps of the town per day. The attacks don't tend to start until June — when a confluence of tourists, summering townspeople and mating ungulate hormones proves too heady to avoid conflict.
"I've watched people walking their dogs and they're acting scared. The deer can sense that. The deer know," she said. "It's noticeable, the changed behaviour. They do this little walk. It's stalking behaviour." Jonhston said the dogs were considered after she saw them successfully run elk out of Banff. The deer have yet to aim a hoof at the face of any of Jobe's collies.
Although most townspeople seem happy to see the deer get their comeuppance, shopkeeper and longtime resident Carol Cruickshank worries about disappointing visitors. "I really like seeing deer fawns born in the backyard and the tourists, of course, love them," she said. "I fear that if we chase them all out of town, the tourists will miss seeing them."
Even the most ardent supporter, however, acknowledges the deer are becoming a problem. "I've been chased many, many times," she said. "Yeah, it's pretty scary when it happens to you, especially when you have a child. The dogs, you can't let them off their leash, but I think it's part of being in the town."
I bet these deer had helicopter parents. "Oh honey, of course no one minds if you kick that human in the head. You just do whatever makes you happy and Mommy will make sure no one interferes. Because rules don't apply to MY precious fawn!!"