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Morgan Skillman leaned against the fence until Nicholas came close enough that he could reach in and touch him. He said he’d never seen reindeer before, but that his dad hunts elk, and the antlers reminded him of those.

“He even does a little trick. See the bells on his harness, it will wiggle and make them ring,” the eight year old from Frenchtown said.

Young kids and their parents crowded around the chain link enclosure set up inside Murdoch’s in Missoula, occasionally reaching a hand in to touch an antler or a patch of hair of the two reindeer that visited the store on Sunday.

“You should have seen it, the crowd was six deep yesterday in Helena all day long,” handler Kevin Hecket said.

The reindeer come from a ranch in Reardan, Washington. The owner of the animals runs a company called Reindeer Express, and Hecket said they are predominantly used for these types of public appearances and other Christmas season shows.

Hecket said unlike deer or elk, reindeer are a much more manageable creature that can even be used as a pack animal.

“There are still indigenous people in places like Russia that live alongside herds of reindeer,” he said.

The two reindeer on Sunday, 9-year-old male Nicholas and a 7-month-old female named Blizzard, are part of a herd of 40 animals which are descendants of a group of reindeer from Scandinavia.

“Nicholas is one of the alternates for Santa’s crew,” Hecket said.

At some of their stops, children have been disappointed that that animals couldn’t fly.

“Because of national security, Santa is only allowed to use the flying powder on them once a year for Christmas,” Hecket said.

Reindeer will be making appearances at the Murdoch’s in Butte from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and in Bozeman on Sunday.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.