Deer at Ridgeline

Black-tailed Deer

Compiled by the makers of Deer Scram™ -- America’s Finest Deer Repellent™

The Columbian black-tailed deer – Odocoileus hemionus columbianus -- is mostly found in dense forests and coastal woodlands in their native range along the Pacific Coast of North America from Alaska to Southern California, on many coastal islands, and west of the summit of the coastal and Cascade mountain ranges. At the eastern boundaries of its range, the blacktail might interbreed with the mule deer, its larger cousin, and hybridize.

The blacktail is the smallest native deer in North America, with a subspecies – the Sitka blacktail – even smaller yet. The weight of a mature buck is rarely more than 190 pounds, but an individual blacktail of that weight is a true heavyweight. Does can weigh upward of 120 pounds. The blacktail is characterized from the mule deer, as being the smaller and darker, and its tail carries a broad and long black stripe. Also, the rump area of the blacktail has a darker, smaller patch of white than does the mule deer.

Blacktails are relatively shier than other deer species. It quickly -- and usually without hesitation -- flees and hides when confronted from even long distances. Rather than try to prove individual dominance among a herd, single bucks live alongside each other and remain with does yearlong. However, buck rivalry does take place during the "rut" -- the breeding season that takes place from late October into early December.

Black-tailed deer typically rest and bed in dense low-lying shrubs, usually not far from transition areas between fields and forests. Some wildlife biologists have surveyed blacktails in their greatest numbers in areas recently burned or logged where grasses, herbs and berry vines are sprouting. They most readily feed from near dusk to just after dawn in edge areas. They also feed along roadways, in cow pastures, in orchards and, when not disturbed, in home gardens, flowerbeds and landscaped yards where ornamental shrubs and trees are plentiful. They prefer a variety of vegetable matter, fresh green leaves, twigs, lower branches of trees and various grasses. They are particularly fond of blackberry and raspberry vines, grapes, mistletoe, mushrooms and ferns. Some accounts have been published of then even eating the fruit of cactus.

Because of their defense strategy of hiding rather than fleeing or fighting, black-tailed deer historically are not as much a problem for gardeners and landscapers as are whitetails and mule deer. However, blacktails will invade gardens and browse landscapers' ornamental shrubs and trees, especially at night. And in places where people feed blacktails, they readily lose their fear of people -- even taking food directly out of hand -- and will not hesitate to enter nearby yards and gardens during daylight hours.

When it comes to accessing urban food-scapes, blacktails are an amazingly efficient -- and clever -- animals. Azaleas, rhododendrons, roses and hostas are among their favorites, but it often seems there’s no end to what they will eat. The damage done to yard plants by a lone deer can be substantial. Several deer can lay a 2-acre landscape to waste. Their remarkable jumping ability allows them to clear fences as much as 9 feet high. They learn the domain and attitude of yard dogs, and some have even displayed an understanding of how far a tethered dog can range. And they communicate their learning to their brethren, especially fawns and yearlings.

As a result, deer deterrents range wide across the horizon of the imagination. Deer are mostly color blind so any bright colors will also not act as a deterrent. Thus, numerous offensive products – both professionally and personally cooked up to protect ornamental shrubs, trees, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens – are made to attack their tastebuds and their noses. Many temporarily turn deer away, but their cleverness eventually results in failed remedies.

Instead, deer must be instilled with the fear of physical harm, which almost always naturally occurs with predators. Indeed, it is only the fear of death that effectively breaks their behavior, whether it’s in a yard or in the woods. To turn deer away from the foods they want, they must sense an assault upon their security. This is best done by taking advantage of their remarkable sense of smell for locating food and survival. Their nose will lead them to return over and over again to areas where food is tasty, abundant and safe to forage. Their nose will also alert deer to nearby danger. Disrupt their sense of security and you’ve achieved the primary factor for turning deer away from your valuable plants, gardens, shrubs and trees. Deer have good memories and learn from each other. When one deer is afraid to return to an area, other deer – including fawns – also will be reluctant to enter the area.

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