Sunday, May 19, 2013

Biologist's Reply On Deer Story

"Russel Stevens is a wildlife biologist with the Noble Foundation.  Here are his thoughts."

"It is not uncommon to see many deer (mainly does) here at night or twilight along the roadsides during various times of the calendar year, esp periods when native forage quality is limited. The first question we should ask is why deer are there along the roadside. Is the reason overly high deer numbers and poor native habitat condition? Or does the mowing which the ‘State’ performs create regrowth of lush high quality plants? I tend to feel it is both as deer numbers are at all-time highs nationally, deer have long thin muzzles for the purpose of selecting the most nutritious plant parts, and very little attention is given to improve the carrying capacity of native lands on a grand scale.

Modern farming and ranching tend to busily span fence-row to fence-row while native land improvement tends to ‘take the back seat’. Deer also quickly adapt to human presence in suburbia without much hint of danger (except for ‘fluffy’ on an occasional ‘bathroom break’). Hence, the ‘suburban deer herd’ has been fostered in a virtual ‘Garden of Eden’! I believe mainly lush plant growth found in suburbia and degraded conditions of adjoining rural areas attract whitetail to the city life. The risk of deer to man goes beyond the roadside!

So we have all these female deer (does) along the highway in fall and some folk know that ’where there are does the bucks will soon follow’. The primary whitetail deer breeding season across the majority of the US begins around the second week of Oct and ends about the second week of Dec with the peak in breeding generally between Nov 13-20. Mating itself normally occurs in isolated patches of thick cover or a wide open field AWAY from other deer and the roadside as the suitor attempts to protect the suitee from other male suitors. The last week of Oct and first 2 weeks of Nov is a time of chaotic activity in the deer herd….hints of estrogen are in the air, bucks are on their feet/aggressive/non-cautious, and about every female in the herd is harassed relentlessly (chased) by the male benefactor during those weeks.

The harassment can escalate to a level where does abandon normal routines and remain closer to security cover to elude potential suitors. If fall temperatures are abnormally warm, then deer with heavy winter coats of hair are going to frequent the roadsides mainly at night which is cooler. White light also impedes the night vision capability of deer, so escape from a vehicle path can be hindered. Normal deer behavior (chasing during breeding) which creates ‘chaos’ in the roadside deer herd is the prime cause of vehicle collisions with some conditions (warm weather, winter coat, and white light) increasing the risk thereof. Don’t believe me? Then ride with me down the AR/OK highways during those weeks and observe the ‘CSI evidence on the concrete’….ie blood spatter and hide! Lest we forget, highway speed-limits have been raised recently affording the driver less ‘reaction time’! The prevalence of ‘red pavement’ easily correlates within the few week long chase phase of deer breeding not within the several month long period of hunting season!

Now of course the increase in deer vehicle collision is quickly blamed by the media on the hunter. What did Don Henley sing about?....DIRTY LAUNDRY….”dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie”! I mean….come on…..A) deer season is open….B) deer hunters chase deer….C) then deer run into cars…that is the ABC viewpoint of the Yuppie! As a good friend often states, “Cause and effect and casual observation do not always lend universal truth!” We know in agriculture that chocolate milk does not come from brown cows, for example! Those who actually hunt deer soon learn that ‘chasing deer’ is an oft fruitless endeavor, unless A) one is blessed with ‘winged track shoes’, B) an endless supply of oxygen, and C) muscles immune to the ill effects of lactic acid buildup. That is the ABCs of a hunter’s viewpoint stemmed from experience. Don’t believe me? Then go run a quarter mile sprint through thick cover like a deer would do! A hefty bet says no human can run it in under 60 sec….while a deer can run it in under 30 sec if alarmed! I’ll gladly drop you off and pick you up from the pick-up truck and call the EMTs if needed! In a few states, deer drives or running deer with dogs is common place (some legal and some illegal) and yes the likely result may be more deer collisions with autos. We cannot deny that theory despite how insignificant it may be! However, the majority of hunters rely on stealth and/or ambush while hunting deer as did our Native American predecessors. Some Tribes chased the buffalo via horseback, but not whitetail, mule deer, pronghorn, or wapiti which are much more agile and shy creatures. Again, most deer hunting is a stealthy practice far removed from major sources of disturbance, such as noisy roadsides!

One obvious answer to reducing auto insurance claims of collision with deer is to reduce deer numbers (mainly does) to fit carrying capacity of the rural landscape….ie undoing some of the deer herd explosion seen during the 80s and 90s. Again, history indicates a trend of declining native habitat quality due to man’s failure to act (eg less timber stand improvement, less prescribed fire, etc). Outside of natural weather related disasters in timber (eg tornados, wild-fire, ice-storms etc) which stimulate abundance of quality forage at deer level, the native habitat trend will continue to decline unless MAN acts upon BOTH the land and the herd NOW. At some point as land stewards/hunters/non-hunters, we need to get away from ‘antler mania’ and the ‘Yuppie media’ and think through things for ourselves and for the betterment of the community or state, safety of our fellow man, sustainability of the native habitat, and the resident herds thereof!

Does may readily seek the cover, water, food, and space resources provided in suburbia if adjoining native lands do not provide for such needs.

‘Where there are does there will soon be bucks during the breeding season’ with car collision risk concomitantly rising.

Hunters can take direct action upon space requirements of overly dense herd numbers by harvesting surplus does while at the same helping future generations understand stewardship.

Both hunters and non-hunters can spend a few hours during a year to improve native land quality by thinning out cull trees in a forest (consult a qualified forester before beginning).

Such actions providing superb cover, food, and space for deer well away from the increased risk along roadsides or within suburbs.

An added benefit of both activities for the farmer may be a reduction in crop damage by deer.

Perhaps the same would also hold true for the suburban gardener.

Very seldom are simple observations a simple matter to understand…..a simple universal truth lying somewhere between the bounds of fact and fiction!

I didn't have a good topic today and found this in my draft file from a few months ago when we were talking about deer damage after a deer run in front of LuAnn's Buick on SR 28 east of SR 134.  Wildlife damage has already started this year on the few acres of new planted crop around here.  It's mainly ducks and geese from the wet spring we've had in southern Ohio.



  1. This weeks Nature on pbs was about deer. I did not realize deer are nearly blind and have no upper teeth. I also didn't realize that they don't live in the wilderness so much as on the edge between the wilderness and the developed. They are kinda like cats in that regard. Humans make spaces where deer thrive because of abundant forage and lack of predators.

    I doubt that deer would chose an improved wilderness over their current locale. In all likelihood their population would expand to inhabit both.

    David Seck

  2. The way the run into automobiles I might buy the nearly blind statement. I will say they love the habitat around here, especially the one I have provided for them.

    They have adapted to the urban sprawl habitat into our Ohio farmlands all too well. Sounds like they have in many other states, too.

    The main predator here now is the coyote from nature and the automobile from man. Our insurance agent said our premiums are higher because of the number of deer and auto collisions and we have had several, just in our family alone.


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