Love & Hate Relationships with the Whitetail Deer

February 19, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

“I don’t mind a couple deer hanging around the farmstead, but when you get a whole herd, that’s just too much.”

Stop by any local coffee shop or gas station and when the topic turns to deer in the winter, it can be as contentious as rolling dice to see who pays for the morning coffee.

It’s interesting how in November attitudes of desiring more deer are buried with a 6” inch snowfall and deer transform from loved, to loathed. The reason behind this is pretty basic. As winter sets in deer tend to herd up and move into sheltered areas, searching for food and shelter. Often times invading farmsteads and livestock feed supplies.

Deer depredation or any animal depredation is part of the business of wildlife management. The underlying theme is when deer, or mink for that matter, can find a free meal, why in the name of conserving energy would they do anything else? The balance for wildlife management is continuing to manage for the resource while keeping in mind a contemporary biological term: social tolerance.

This tolerance level refers to the same landowner/hunter who relishes big bucks and a chance at hunting one for his enjoyment. Many who experience differing levels of deer depredation, whether it’s deer feasting on the corn in your garden during summer or livestock feed supplies in winter, still relish the chance at a buck tag.

Depredation occurs at every stage of wildlife population. Just one mink can wipe out a chicken coup in short notice. Even if a wildlife population is in a state of decline such as furbearer populations, depredation will occur, a different level.

The key to dealing with any depredating situation is preemptive and quick responses. Securing your chicken coup and patching up holes will help deter mink. And so it goes that the best prevention against deer depredation begins long before snow covers the ground and deer begin to herd up, which by the way is a natural, but exacerbated during times of extreme snowfall.

Given current conditions past years of limited deer depredation are on the upswing. Simply pointing the finger at our deer population is not indicative of the severity of deer depredation. Even with a significantly lower deer herd such as 10-20 years ago, white-tailed deer would find their way into the realm of the unprepared.

So what measures can be taken? First and foremost, situations with scattered bales whether round or square, are an open invitation for vagabond deer. If you’re stacking bales. Make a barrier around your best hay, with lower quality forage or straw protecting higher grade feed.

The best case scenario would be a fenced hay yard, which would keep out all deer, if one is not available, proper stacking and wrapping with deer fence will help.

Given some instances where a landowner enjoys a few deer, as hard is it may be, the first sign of a free meal and before you know it, more friends and family will join in the feast. So it’s best to nip it in the bud, before the problem becomes unbearable.

Yes, the Game and Fish Department offers support and assistance in severe depredation instances, but preferably deer depredation can be stopped before it starts.

As a final word, don’t underestimate the value of hunting in preventing deer depredation. Next year as deer season rolls around, give serious thought to allowing access. A novel idea taking flight is posting of signs which read, no hunting the first weekend of deer season, after which walk-in hunters are welcome.

That’s not the only answer, but it’s a big part of the equation aimed at balancing out social tolerance.


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