Our most common call concerning our local deer is when a person finds a fawn, or two, under their porch in their back yard. Mom is nowhere to be seen, and it seems as though these poor fawns have been abandoned at your house. We love this call. Mother deer leave their young somewhere safe during the day while they go out and run their mommy-errands. They take the fawns to a secure place, usually under a porch or in a field with tall grasses, and they tell the kids to lie low until Mom gets back at dusk. If you leave the fawn alone and keep an eye out you will get to witness the most amazing thing – a mother deer returning to get her young, and the family reunion takes place right in front of you. This is one to call your kids in for, and grab the camera.
The kids act as though Mom has been gone for a month. They are so happy to see her that they often jump and skip around, nuzzle Mom’s mouth, as if kissing her hello, and run circles around her in joy. It is very sweet to watch, and at times you get to see it multiple days in a row. If Mom decides your porch is her best option for deer day-care, she will use your home for multiple days before moving on. If you wish to deter her from doing so, you can make her less comfortable by making sure someone or something (a family pet) is out in the yard during the early morning hours. You can also purchase a motion activated sprinkler that will deter the deer from you yard if you so wish. It doesn’t take much to make Mom decide that your home is not a safe spot. She’s a typical overprotective mother, and it takes very little to make her anxious about the children’s safety.
To reduce the risks of a predator locating her fawn, a doe seeks seclusion just prior to birth, trying to be less conspicuous by avoiding other deer. For the first few weeks of the fawn’s life, the doe keeps the fawn hidden except for suckling bouts. The doe may also feed and bed a considerable distance from the fawn’s bed site. This way, even if a predator detects the doe, the fawn may still have a chance of avoiding detection. To further keep her fawn safe from predators, the doe consumes the fawn’s urine and droppings to help keep the fawn as scent-free as possible. The droppings provide the mother with further nutrition at a time when it is much-needed.
When not nursing, the fawn curls up in a bed site and remains motionless, its white spots blending in well with the sun-flecked ground. Fawns lose their spots at 90 to 120 days of age, when they begin growing their winter coats. Every year, wildlife departments and wildlife rehabilitators receive calls about “orphaned” fawns. Callers are told that in the spring it is a perfectly natural occurrence to come across a fawn that is seemingly by itself in the woods.The fawn is probably not alone; its mother is nearby, aware, and attentive. (Just like the fawn under the porch) The advice to anyone encountering a fawn lying quietly alone in the woods is to leave it alone. Mother will be nearby and will be taking care of it once you move away, or at dusk when she returns from foraging.
If you have moved the fawn, return it to where it was found. Fawns can often be returned to their mothers if taken back to where they were found within eight hours.
If a fawn appears cold, weak, thin, or injured, and its mother does not return in approximately eight hours, it may be orphaned. In such a case, you can call the hotline to find your local wildlife rehab center @ 1-855-WILD-HELP.
When Deer Truly Need Intervention
Deer are naturally nervous animals and even fawns (baby deer) can be extremely powerful, causing physical harm to anyone and anything nearby by kicking and bucking. Because of this they should NEVER be handled by anyone other than experienced professionals. Once you have decided that a deer is in need of assistance, please contact the hotline or your local rehab facility before attempting any sort of novice rescue.
Considering the nervous nature of deer, it is always important to keep your distance whenever possible. Human intervention can at times be more detrimental than helpful. Some injuries in deer, while they might look terrible, have to be left alone to heal as nature intended because the rehab process would be more harmful to the deer psychologically than it would be helpful physically. Keeping this in mind, there are circumstances where human intervention is helpful, and at times necessary.
-Deer/Fawn attacked by dog, cat, other animal, and is DOWN, not able to run away. Initially deer attacked by another animal will most likely be stunned and in shock. This time period is crucial, as the animal will only be approachable and easy to catch for a small amount of time. Please contact the hotline or your local rehab facility as soon as possible if you witness an attack like this.
-Deer/Dawn hit by car and DOWN on road, shoulder, etc, This happens far more often than any of us would like. Some car vs deer incidents result in the deer running off into the woods. Some do not. If you are a part of, or witness to a car vs deer incident, please try to not MOVE the deer at all. Instead, cover the animals face/head with a blanket/coat/etc. to de-stress the animal. The less a deer can see around them, the better. The commotion of people walking around them, cars driving around them, are all too much for this species to take. If you cover the face, it will give you time to contact the hotline for assistance. In the case of a deer blocking train tracks, a major roadway, etc. there are times that the local police can assist with this as well. Be forewarned though, often these situations do not have a good result, no matter what we do. Many times, the result is local law enforcement or a conservation department officer coming out to put the deer down. We sincerely wish that there were more cases that we could save, but many times this is not possible. For this reason, please make sure that your children are not standing next to you when law enforcement or the conservation department does arrive. This is not something that you will want your children to witness. Trust us.
Adult Deer & The Mischief They Cause
The Hotline gets many, many calls about deer in trouble during the months of October and November. It is ‘rutting’ season for us in the Midwest, and for one reason or another the deer get themselves in trouble – like spring break for college kids. The male deer, bucks, are arguing over the females, does, and fighting each other with their antlers. When one buck wins the loser usually gets run off for a while, and sometimes that winds up with a deer in the road. Then we end up getting calls from drivers, police, and anyone else about the deer getting hit by a car. Sadly, we do not have any good answers for a deer that gets hit by a car. If the deer has a broken leg, most rehab facilities will not take it in. Many rehab centers do not have the proper permit to rehabilitate deer at all, much less have the space requirements for an adult doe or buck with a broken leg. Aside from this, deer stress easily in a rehab setting, much more so than the fawns do. Adults do not fare well in rehab and often the damage we must do to them psychologically to rehab the injury is not worth the physical healing. Our best option with many hit by care adult deer is euthanasia, and because deer are nearly impossible to relocate from the road to a vet’s office, the manner of death is often a police officer or conservation agent coming out to shoot the deer to put him down and end his suffering.
If an adult deer is hit by a car or otherwise injured and it is a minor injury, they may do just fine on their own. It depends on the injury, but if you see a deer with a limp, or some other sort of injury but the deer is able to get away from you when it sees you, and is mobile enough to travel and forage for food, leave it be. This is the best option for the adults. The trauma of being caught, taken to rehab, and everything that follows is just too much for them. They are better off letting nature take its course. They do sometimes heal from minor injuries and do just fine. If not, sometimes that makes them more susceptible to attack by predators, but predators have to eat too. ‘Tis the circle of life.
From time to time an adult deer will not quite injure itself but instead they will get themselves stuck in a variety of situations. Deer caught in nets by the antlers, deer in a swimming pool and can’t get out, deer stuck in a gate that can’t get out, and deer drunk on fermented berries passes out in the front lawn. They do get into trouble. If you witness an adult deer in some sort of impossible situation like any of these, please give us a call at the Wildlife Hotline 1-855-WILD-HELP and we would be happy to try to find someone near you who may be able to help. Do not approach the animal. Wait for someone properly trained to assist you.
Driving Tips to Avoid Deer Collisions
Deer are most active at dawn and dusk. Be especially watchful during these times.
One deer crossing the road may be a sign that more deer are about to cross. Watch for other deer– they will move fast to catch up with leaders, mothers, or mates and may not pay attention to traffic.
When you see brake lights, it could be because the driver ahead of you has spotted a deer. Stay alert as you drive by the spot, as more deer could try to cross.
Wonder why the person ahead is driving so slowly? The driver may know where to slow down and be extra alert for deer. Don’t be too quick to pass, and watch out.
Take note of deer-crossing signs and drive accordingly. They were put there for a reason.
Try to drive more slowly at night, giving yourself time to see a deer with your headlights. Lowering the brightness of your dashboard lights slightly will make it easier to see deer.
upBe especially watchful when traveling near steep roadside banks. Deer will pop up on the roadway with little or no warning.
Be aware that headlights confuse deer and may cause them to move erratically or stop. Young animals in particular do not recognize that vehicles are a threat.
Deer hooves slip on pavement and a deer may fall in front of your vehicle just when you think it is jumping away.
Deer whistles, small devices that can be mounted on your vehicle, emit a shrill sound that supposedly alerts deer nearby. (Humans cannot hear the sound.) How well the devices work is not scientifically known.
If a collision with a deer seems imminent, take your foot off the accelerator and brake lightly. But—and this is critical–keep a firm hold on the steering wheel while keeping the vehicle straight. Do not swerve in an attempt to miss the deer. Insurance adjusters claim that more car damage and personal injury is caused when drivers attempt to avoid collision with a deer and instead collide with guard rails or roll down grades. If you accidentally hit and kill a deer, try to move the animal off the road–providing you can do so in complete safety. Otherwise, report the location of the deer’s body to the city, county, or state highway department with jurisdiction for the road. If no action is taken, contact the non-emergency number of the local police department, and the agency will arrange for the body to be removed. This will prevent scavengers from being attracted to the road, and eliminate a potential traffic hazard. If the deer is wounded, call the non-emergency number of the local police department and describe the animal’s location. Emphasize that the injured deer is a traffic hazard to help ensure that someone will come quickly. If you do not have the number for your local police, call us at the hotline and we would be happy to find it for you.
Deer are destroying my garden!
Although a deer fence or other barrier is the best insurance against damage, landscaping with deer-resistant plants is a more aesthetic alternative. In addition, there may be areas where a deer fence isn’t practical. A walk or drive through the neighborhood or a visit to the neighbors can give you an idea of what plants are less palatable to deer. Whether or not a particular plant will be eaten depends upon several factors: the deer’s nutritional needs, its previous feeding experience, plant palatability, time of year, and availability of wild foods. When preferred foods are scarce, there are few plants that deer will not eat. A large deer population can create competition for food, causing deer to eat many plants that they normally would avoid. Deer develop predictable travel patterns, and prior damage is often a good indicator of potential future problems. Any new plantings added to an existing landscape or garden already suffering from severe deer damage will likely also be browsed.
There are multiple websites available to assist you with deterring deer from destroying your garden, as well as assisting you in creating a garden that is deer-friendly. Please visit one of the following sites for more information:
Deer are destroying my yard in general, not just my garden.
Deer repellents use a disagreeable odor or taste, or a combination of both, to dissuade deer from eating the treated plant. They are easy to apply and homemade solutions are inexpensive. Numerous odor and taste repellents have been developed to reduce deer damage, and new products are continually becoming available. There have been numerous studies to test the effectiveness of these repellents, often producing conflicting results. No repellent eliminates deer damage entirely.
An All-in-One Homemade Deer Repellent
Mix the following in a 1-gallon tank sprayer:
2 beaten and strained eggs— strain them to remove the white strings surrounding the yolk, which otherwise will plug up your sprayer).
1 cup milk, yogurt, buttermilk, or sour milk
2 tsp. Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper
20 drops essential oil of clove, cinnamon, or eucalyptus, found in small bottles at health food stores
1 tsp. cooking oil or dormant oil
1 tsp. liquid dish soap
Top off the tank with water and pump it up. Shake the sprayer occasionally and mist onto dry foliage. One application will last for 2 to 4 weeks in dry weather.
Before you apply: Most repellents function by reducing the palatability of the treated plant to a level below other available plants. Hence, repellent effectiveness depends upon the availability of wild deer food. Repellents are more appropriate for short-term rather than long-term problems and are the most practical for non commercial users experiencing low to moderate deer damage.
Repellents work best if applied before the deer develop a routine feeding pattern. This means applying repellents before leaves or flower buds emerge and as new growth appears. It’s easier and more effective to prevent a feeding habit from forming than to try to break an established one.
Things to Remember about Repellents:
Spray-on repellents need to be applied frequently to protect the new plant growth, and will need to be re-applied after rain and long exposure to hot, dry, or windy weather.
Deer may become accustomed to the same repellent over time, and eventually ignore it. Alternating repellents may help keep deer confused and more wary of eating your plants.
Repellents that are applied to plant surfaces are generally more effective than capsules containing garlic oil, bags of hair, or other devices that produce an odor intended to protect a specific area.
Finally, before putting complete faith in a repellent, first try it on a small area. Always use commercial repellents according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Scare Tactics to Deter Deer
Like most animals, deer are neophobic (fearful of novel objects), and many scare tactics take advantage of this behavior. However, deer soon get accustomed to new things and damage resumes after they realize no actual harm will come to them. As with repellents, a given tactic will work on some deer, but no single one seems to work on all of them. If the animals are already used to feeding in the area, scare tactics will last an even shorter length of time. Scare tactics can be visual (scarecrows, bright lights, spare blankets), auditory (noise making devices such as exploders, whistles, etc.), or olfactory (predator urine or droppings).
One recent innovation is a motion sensor combined with a sprinkler that attaches to a hose. When a deer comes into its adjustable, motion-detecting range, a sharp burst of water is sprayed at the animal. This device appears to be effective by combining a physical sensation with a startling stimulus. Similar in approach but less effective are radios and lights hooked up to a motion detector.
A dog can help keep deer away, especially if it is large and awake. To keep the dog at home while simultaneously repelling deer from your property, use a “dog trolley” or an invisible (buried electric) fence, where practical. Avoid tethering a dog near stairways and fences, and provide at least 15 feet of cleared space for it to move around in. Do not use a choke chain, and remove all debris that could tangle or injure your dog. Provide shade, water, and shelter for the dog at all times.
If you are experiencing a conflict with deer that needs more information please call the hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP to discuss with a wildlife specialist.