MAGRATH, ALTA. – Hunters in southern Alberta are killing white-tailed deer out of season – ridding the region of a growing nuisance and helping the pursuit of science.

The deer population outside Magrath, south of Lethbridge, has grown more than 500 per cent over the last decade. The animals are devouring gardens in town, where they’re safe from predators.

Hundreds of deer line both sides of the road in Magrath, according to the town’s manager. “They just dart out in front of traffic and people are hitting them with their cars,” said Ron Williams.

The province has given its blessing to the cull, with wildlife officers saying that since the deer have become accustomed to people and life in Magrath, killing them in a special quota hunt is the only way left to get rid of them.

“What we’re trying to do is target a very specific area and the population of white-tailed deer,” said Kim Morton of Alberta Fish and Wildlife.

While hunters enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime chance, government scientists are collecting and studying the ungulates’ heads for signs of chronic wasting disease, a brain-wasting disease like bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

“It’s actually very rare to get access to a population of animals that’s from a defined area,” said Doug Coldwell, a specialist in animal-borne parasites at the Lethbridge Research Centre.

Animal rights activists, though, call the hunt a cruel and simplistic solution.

“Humans caused the problem by destroying natural predators in their natural environment,” said Pat Tacail of Voice for Animals. “We need to take responsibility for our actions instead of blaming wildlife and deciding to kill wildlife.”

So far hunters have shot 100 deer and they’re allowed to kill 100 more.