Deer up close

This post is in response to Pit’s questions about getting close to the deer in his yard in Texas. I’m on Vancouver Island and we have similar problems with the deer coming close because their natural habitat has been taken over. It is, strictly speaking, illegal to feed wild animals, but we feed birds all the time, and the deer in our area were so undernourished, their poor condition was enough to make a grown man cry. You could see the deer’s ribs and their fur was mottled and thin, marked all over by parasites that had taken up residence in their bodies. I said to the Captain, “You either have to shoot them and put them out of their misery, or we have to feed them.”

“Well, you can’t shoot around here, so I guess I’ll pick up some cracked corn at the feed store.”

At first I put piles of cracked corn on the grass. Then later I got some old pots and just set those out, so the corn didn’t get wasted in the grass. The deer soon got used to me as I crouched nearby while they ate. Each time they got more comfortable about me being there and finally they would eat from my hand. I’ve touched their cheeks and when the fawns were born, they brought them over and I touched their little faces. I’ve never felt fur so soft.

I know it was wrong to feed a wild animal, but these deer had nowhere to go and they were suffering, so the choice was easy. People had caused the problem, so people had to try to fix it. The next year, the deer were in much better shape. Two other neighbours farther down the road were also feeding them and it got the deer over the worst times when we had particularly harsh winters.

I haven’t fed the deer for several years now. This picture is 15 years old. But I would do it again if they looked needy.

Feeding the deer[1]

25 thoughts on “Deer up close

  1. Your circumstances were unusual, but I’ve been told the best practice is never to touch a fawn. They are born scentless, as protection from predators. Human scent on a fawn can draw those who might like to have them for breakfast. Here’s a pretty good article about dealing with them. They are beautiful, no question.

    During our drought there were many, many deer who died of starvation, partly because the acorn crop was nearly nil. Today? Everything has reversed, and now we’re overrun with healthy deer, rather than unhealthy!

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    • I agree with you about never touching a fawn. This doe brought the fawn over for food. It was old enough to eat corn (in small amounts, and not as dependent on the mother for food, past the stage where the mother stashes the fawn and comes back later. I totally agree with you about the whole “leave the wildlife alone” thing, but these deer were dying on their feet and if we hadn’t fed them they wouldn’t have made it through the winter. We were already overrun with deer and the “right” thing would have been to let them die. But it didn’t feel right, so we did what we felt we had to do. And I did enjoy touching that fawn’s cheeks, even though I shouldn’t have.

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  2. Hi Anneli,
    An interesting post: thanks – also for mentioning me. Here, I’d not consider the deer a problem. Of course, they do eat some flowers and shrubs in our garden, but we adapt to that by mainly planting things they don’t like. Well, the deer don’t seem to be able to read the descriptions of the plants as deer safe. 😉 So they still eat some of them. But what? we’re learning by trial and error. And we like to have the deer too much for us to really want to get rid of them. Which would, considering the lay of our property, be impossible anyway. Quite some damage was done by a buck last year. He rubbed his horns at many of our freshly planted trees and in the procress broke of branches and, what was worse, shaved off a lot of bark. We’ll still have to see if the trees survive that in the heat of the upcoming summer. But then, I don’t blame the buck but myself. I knew that could happen but simply didn’t think of putting fences and/or wire around the trees until it was too late.
    Here, the deer also seem to be very helathy and quite well fed. We put corn out only in small amounts, to attract them, not really to feed them. I agree with shoreacres: is it really a good idea to touch fawns? I’ve heard that human smell on them might even their mothers reject them. Well, at least so far I’ve not been able to touch even the does.
    Have a wonderful weekend, and enjoy the deer,
    Pit

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    • Yes, you’re right, Pit. I’ve answered that question in response to Shoreacres. She’s right. This fawn was older, but still….
      And as for your de-barked trees, I’ve lost some very expensive trees that way, not knowing what to do until after the fact.

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    • Thanks. I know Shoreacres is right, but I felt I had no choice about the feeding. Petting the fawn was just a small gesture, for a few seconds, and it was old enough to eat corn, so it wasn’t like a new fawn needing to be scentless (in which case the mother would never have brought it so close to me).

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  3. It must be heartbreaking to see them in such a condition. Does that mean they haven’t got that bad for along time? Blogger friend, Kathy, who lives in the forest in the UP has blogged about seeing them in terrible condition before too. It’s so sad.

    My dad and his wife live in Wisconsin most of the year now. They live on 16 acres of land, and his wife feeds all kinds of animals that don’t need feeding. It bugs me sometimes, because I bring my dog up there and he doesn’t need wild animals threatening him. She not only feeds birds and deer, but fox, raccoons, muskrats, turkeys and SKUNKS! You name the animal, if they come onto their property, she feeds them … and all year round, when they don’t need humans taking care of them because they can find food on their own.

    It’s understandable why you fed the deer, but my dad’s wife gets out of hand with the feeding.

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    • One of the problems with feeding wild animals is that they become dependent on you and if you fail them they may have forgotten what they should be doing to find their own food. In our case, the area got built up fast and the deer had no place to go and since most of the trees were cut down to build houses, they came to our neighbourhood all the more because we still have stands of timber around us. But no one wants them eating their geraniums, and most people have dogs, so that doesn’t work well. The deer have spread out or died off in our neighbourhood now. There are still plenty but we’re not overrun with them. We’ve had to put up fences (not for the deer but for the many dogs running around that people are supposedly walking off leash), so many of the deer have moved. You still see them walking around in town though. I think it’s sad to see a deer trying to cross a busy paved road.

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  4. I think you did the right thing, Anneli. I appreciate how you show caring when you know it is needed but also inform us of why we shouldn’t do this regularly! Thank you so much and sorry I had a few posts to catch up on! Hugs, Robin

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