White-Tailed Deer

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

Once nearly exterminated by market hunting in much of the United States -- especially the Midwest and Northeast – the whitetail deer population by the 1970s across North America has been steadily growing. Following extensive efforts to protect whitetails and restock herds from the 1940s forward, whitetails numbers in their natural range are estimated today as high as 25 million animals. Stop deer munching and browsing in my garden and landscape

It’s no surprise, then, that whitetails -- Odocoileus virginianus -- are found just about anywhere. It has become the most plentiful game animal in eastern North America and is seen as a pest in many areas -- eating garden plants and ornamental shrubs and trees, and contributing to tens of thousands of car accidents. Thinning the deer population is among the cures for these problems and is best done by hunting both does and bucks. As a result, hunting seasons for whitetails of both sexes now are scheduled in all states and Canadian provinces where the animals are found. (Note: Though not the primary cause of Lyme disease, white-tailed deer are the host for deer ticks, which spread Lyme disease to humans who are bitten by “carrier” ticks.)

Whitetails prefer to live around the edge of forestlands – at transition points to open areas – and, frequently, in farming country. However, increased urbanization of land has created ideal habitat for deer where yards meet forested land – both deciduous and conifer forests – as well as grasslands and even deserts where water sources are found within 10 miles. Land clearing also has reduced the number of natural predators of not only whitetails but of their North American cousins, too – mule deer and black-tailed deer. All three species often enter human inhabited areas and feast on vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, ornamental shrubs and trees and a variety of grasses. Deer have also been seen taking drinks from artificial water supplies.

White-tailed deer tend to remain separated by sex and will only come together for short periods of time during the “rut” -- or breeding season -- which occurs between November and January, depending upon the location. During this period, bucks spar for breeding and domain rights. One to three fawns are born to does usually in May or June and remain with does through the following winter. In spring, young bucks begin the rites of maturity by leaving the does, growing their first set of antlers – frequently little more than “spikes” several inches long – and sparing to claim domain rights. Does continue to herd together through summertime. Life span in the wild is about 10 years.

Stop deer browsingWhite-tailed deer are extremely cautious animals with keen senses of smell and hearing. Both bucks and does tend to come out at night to feed or migrate and usually remain awake until dawn. When they do sleep, it is usually in areas of dense cover and only for short periods of time. When nervous, the white-tailed deer snorts through its nose and stamps its hooves, an action that alerts other nearby deer to danger. If alarmed, the deer raises -- or "flags" -- its tail to display a large, bright flash of white that sends a danger signal to other deer and helps a fawn follow its mother in flight. They are always alert to the sense of danger, but they can grow at ease with people, pets, automobiles and other machinery that appear to pose no threat, although they typically bolt when approached. When they run from confrontation, whitetails rarely dash farther than the nearest cover.

White-tailed deer are browsers and grazers. Leaves, grass, bark, acorns, shrubs, fruits, nuts, berries, lichens, fungi and other plant material support whitetail growth to as much as 400 pounds for bucks and 200 pounds for does, but these are the biggest of the sexes. The largest individuals are usually found where winter weather is harshest. On average, a single deer consumes 5 to 10 pounds of food a day, primarily what is available in their habitat. Where yards meet woodlands, deer will readily adapt their feeding routines to include the vegetable gardens, ornamental shrubs and trees of homeowners and groomed landscapes.

Get rid of deer in my gardenWhen it comes to accessing urban food-scapes, whitetails are an amazingly efficient -- and clever -- animal. 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 taste buds 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.

Deterring White-tailed Deer with Deer Scram

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