Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Antlered Rats

As I was heading down my driveway to go to work yesterday a big buck ran across right in front of my vehicle. If I had been going 2 miles an hour faster I would be buying new headlights and my friend Festus would be feasting on venison. I don't know how many deer cross my driveway every morning but this one managed to find the single moment when it stood a chance of ending up in the stew pot.

I read somewhere that there are more deer in New England today than before the Europeans came. It's certainly plausible. With such abundance, the Indians would have been fat and sassy. Not only are there a lot of them, they seem to have a proclivity for hurling themselves in front of motor vehicles.

For the Indians, they meant food, clothing and shelter, but for European settlers in the 21st Century, they are mostly just a nuisance. In addition to trashing cars, they eat fruit trees, corn and other crops (including mine) and ornamental shrubs, can prevent reforestation, and along with mice and voles, are hosts to the deer tick, the vector of Lime disease.

Unfortunately, in Connecticut, deer hunting culture is dying out. The few beer-fueled louts stumbling around the woods in Windham County with rusty rifles don't do much to limit the population. If the cougars were to return, as soon as somebody's Dandy Dinmont got eaten the people would take to the streets demanding that the state exterminate them. The flatlanders who move out to the country just think the deer are adorable and some fools even feed them. Some towns have hired hunters to cull the herd but there are always fools who think they're being all progressive and environmentalist by opposing hunting. If you really think nature is so beautiful, you should advocate stocking the woods with Puma concolor.

The fact is there are too many deer. It seems to me somebody could develop a contraceptive bait, but I've never heard of such a strategy. Anybody got a better idea?


  1. I think pumas are the way to go, or any other wild predator. I prefer the woods filled with those kinds of predators than yahoos with guns.

  2. contraceptives could work:

    there are a fair number of deer in our area. some reported mountain lions, also -- and my husband found the carcass of a young deer once that had been taken down by a predator, of which the mountain lion is the main candidate. the deer love people's gardens, so it's really common to see deer fencing around yards and individual trees or shrubs. my husband grows trees from pups, and he's planted a few on the hillside behind our property; 4 of them have wire fencing around them, so they will have less attention from the deer.

    we have wire fencing along the back of our yard, which backs up to a nature area; the deer can jump that if they want, but we also have dogs, and that has discouraged the deer for over a decade. [our yard previously was a popular path for the deer, from the hillside to the street so they could eat people's front yards.]

  3. Yes, I know you have pumas out west. We do in fact have a few, which I can attest to personally, but they're rare and reclusive -- not enough to have much impact on the deer population, it seems. The forest service denies they exist, for obvious reasons -- if they admitted it, people would demand they do something about it.

    I have put fencing around every one of my fruit trees. I planted 9 this fall. It's a minor pain and a bit unsightly, but there's no help for it.

  4. when your trees get bigger, they'll be OK. the veg garden, though, probably will need some protection. (that's just like putting a gourmet salad bar out for the deer...)

    i've heard of people buying predator urine to sprinkle around the perimeter of a fenced garden, but no experience with that, and you gotta wonder how they get it.

  5. I really don't understand people who move to the country and then complain about the beings who were there before they were. I'm looking at you, Cervantes!

    Deer ticks are not species-specific, you know. You're as likely, or more likely, to come into contact with deer ticks that have been carried into your area by white-footed mice, especially now that you've cleared a patch of land.

    Oh, the yin and yang of your post and the Dharma Bums' post!

  6. Out West they are called mountain lions. They live around our homestead but they do not seem to control the deer population. Their deer kills are very distinctive and they are quite reclusive.

    I have to say that after I find a recent kill I have a bit of edge being outdoors at dusk. Healthy lions prefer deer but sick or old lions can't catch them. People are easier prey. Fortunately, these attacks are rare. But, one winter day I was cross country skiing in fresh powder and when I turned around to head back I was a bit shocked to see lion tracks, I had a stalker.

    As far as gardens go, I erected a seven foot fence several years ago. No problems since although I was warned that it had to be eight feet. Every tree I plant is fenced until it grows to a certain age.

    I'd say its pretty easy to adapt to their presence. And, I no longer eat venison but once in a while I miss a tenderloin cooked with onions & green chile.

  7. It's interesting how many names the cats are known by. Mountain lion is common here as well, also panther, and cougar. In Vermont they're catamounts, and in Central Pennsylvania of course they're nittany lions. But puma is the scientific name.

    I'm going to put up a deer fence as well, but I don't think 7 feet will work.

  8. Congrats on your new home and your (beautifully written as always) new blog home! I hope you fare well in this storm, and can get out when you need/want to....
    In a spate of news recently about deer-hunting purportedly to help control Lyme Disease, I was recalling efforts to combat Lyme with cotton swabs (stashed around countryside in cardboard cylinders) imbued with something hazardous -- or contraceptive -- for the mice that host Lyme ticks, on the hope that mice would find this nice cozy nesting material and take it home. wondered what became of those efforts-- didn't work, I assume, because haven't been mentioned recently, but anyone know why?

    Glad to have a rare opportunity today in the holiday season to read SA, my favorite blog, for first time in ages...and find my way here.

  9. Thanks so much DQ. I suspect trying to control mice with contraceptives would be utterly futile since there are just so many of them! My farmer friend here (who I call Festus for public consumption) says he gets Lime disease most every spring, and just gets over it.

  10. The stuff they wanted the mice to take home was topical tick poison.