Oh Deer, What Can the Matter Be?


From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills

Thirty years ago, if I saw a herd of twenty or thirty deer grazing in grain fields in our neighborhood, I would have thought seriously about going on the wagon and I don’t mean a hay wagon either. There were no deer in our county then. Today such a sight is common.

Deer are becoming a very big problem but the general populace doesn’t think so yet. Have you ever been at a public meeting where hunters ally with wild animal lovers to lash out against homeowners, biologists, farmers and insurance companies who want to reduce the number of deer significantly? I have. It is not pretty. These people really get angry, shouting and cursing at each other. Ted Williams, my favorite wildlife writer, described in Audubon magazine a couple of years ago a confrontation where a biologist was trying to tell hunters about the depredations that deer were causing to the wild. They “interrupted him by stomping and jeering, … cursed and spat at him, … pushed him and threatened to kill him.”

The biologist was trying to tell them, with scientific data, that deer were overpopulating and devastating “thousands upon thousands of square miles” of natural vegetation to the point where new trees in forests and undergrowth and wild flowers were being destroyed, which in turn destroyed the environment of many other animals dependent on the vegetation, which also meant that the deer were starving in some areas. Farmers tell the same story regarding their crops. Insurance companies point out that hundreds of people are killed or injured in car/deer accidents every year, not to mention 1.5 million deer. The cost to insurance companies is about $1.1 billion annually. What has happened is that necessary depopulation of deer is being done by road traffic— we have become suicide bombers in our cars, killing ourselves in the process of killing deer.

The bedfellows that this controversy has brought together seems almost humorous. Those who oppose all killing of wild animals have teamed up with hunters who oppose any policy that might reduce the overall number of deer other than, of course, their own policy of killing deer. The hunters want a big deer population so they can always be assured of bagging one as soon as they step into the woods. So, although they think they are big, tough, rootin’, tootin’ macho outdoorsmen, bristling with guns, they will vote with, however embarrassingly, those whom they otherwise call ultra liberal wimps who don’t want to see any animal killed. On the other side, farmers are siding with professional environmentalists whom they normally despise, because both see the necessity of reducing the deer population.

I am not too hopeful that more hunting would bring reduction of the deer herd anyway, as both sides seem to believe. I don’t think we have enough real hunters left in this country— hunters willing to do the hard work of real hunting. Or who know how to shoot straight. Time after time in cases where hunters complain that there are no deer left in their area, scientific checking, with infrared light at night, shows plenty of deer. The hunters just don’t know how to hunt, or don’t have the time for it.

If only deer developed a taste for car tires. Then people who don’t understand the problem would wake up some fine morning and find their tires gnawed down to the rims. Then they’d know how we farmers and gardeners feel and believe me, something would get done about the overpopulation of deer. Right now.

In my experience, none of the socially-approved methods of keeping deer out of farm fields and gardens work very well, except an eight-foot high wire panel fence which would be prohibitively expensive for large fields. Some say strobe lights flashing intermittently will do the trick, but if I know deer, and I do, it will take them maybe two weeks to figure that one out. But my wife has come up with something new that, so far, works. She parks the car next to the garden where deer regularly eat at our vegetables and flowers. She puts the car keys on the lampstand beside our bed. Several times in the middle of the night she rolls over and pushes the panic button on the key chain. All hallelujah breaks loose in the garden, the car lights blinks and the blaring horn sends up an anthem guaranteed to send deer airborne into the next county. It also sets every dog in the neighborhood to howling.

Of course this doesn’t solve the problem. It just means sending the deer into someone else’s garden. And if you have close neighbors, it might not be advisable unless they hate deer in the garden as much as you do.
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.

Current Books:
All Flesh Is Grass: Pleasures & Promises of Pasture Farming
The Lords of Folly (novel)
The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
Photo Credit: Rurality
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