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Oh Deer, There Goes the Neighborhood

When I tell people that we have a lot of deer in town, I’m not exaggerating. They seem to be everywhere. At times, they are pests and they will happily reduce home gardens to stubble. Sometimes they can also be a hazard because they often walk right across streets and are oblivious of traffic. Most times, they are beautiful to watch.

We are situated right at a boundary between white-tailed deer country and mule deer country, so we often see both. I’m aware that not everyone has the fortune (or misfortune, depending on your viewpoint and what they happen to be munching on) to see deer close up. The following are pictures I took of deer in our neighborhood, mostly from our home. As you’ll see, the deer are alert and aware, but not especially bothered by people. That includes me when I was taking the pictures.

All of the deer pictured are part of our local herd that resides in town and in the surrounding area.

The buck stops here

I think that this is a much better picture of the buck from the previous two images. He is laying in the shade of a pine tree, just enjoying the day. Out of range of this picture is the doe, along with another buck, two more does, and the turkeys.

These are just some of the deer around here. There are about 30 in the herd, though it varies a little from year to year. Most of the does around here have twins each year and though a large number of them don't live long enough to become adults, enough survive to make up for the losses to the does and bucks in the herd, so the number remains fairly constant.

Welcome to rural life in Montana!

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Across the way

This yearling mule deer is on its way to bedding grounds and is about to walk out in the street. It might look as if she's looking at traffic before crossing, but she really isn't. The picture was taken facing across from our house and the deer just jumped the fence from the neighbor's yard. She is actually looking back at two more deer that were farther down the street.

Same place, different deer

This is not the same yearling as in the previous picture, though the location is almost the same; across the street from our house. This deer just crossed the street from the west side of our house. She is very unconcerned with me and isn't even looking at me when I took the picture. This picture was taken about a month after the previous one.

Incidentally, despite the caption in the picture, this is a mule deer, not a white tail.

    • When there is no snow, they take advantage of the growing grass in yards to munch on. In the winter, we sometimes have two or three that bed down next to the house. The area is protected and there is grass under the snow that they can get to. They also know that I occasionally toss apples out there.

        • There’s little doubt that the deer would eat the grass, but deer eat while they are on the move, usually to and from water. By doing it that way, by the time they get to their bedding grounds, they have plenty of food in their bellies and can lay and chew the cud at leisure. Thus, if left to the deer, you’d have meandering paths with shorter grass and the rest would still be long. LOL

        • They certainly think so. As long as they stay out of my garden when it is actively growing, we’re all cool. They are stubborn, though. A number of times when I’ve had to chase them away from the garden, I’ve come within arm’s length of one deer or another. In fact, that is why I feed them the apples where I do. It is away from the garden. lol

          • They are so used to people that a scarecrow wouldn’t phase them. strips of neon colored tape work fairly well, though, and they don’t like the smell of the fermented fish that I use on the garden. Still, when they are determined, there isn’t much that can be done. The mule deer can jump an eight-foot fence flat-footed and without effort.

    • Yep, they will sometimes kill trees by eating the bark, especially if they are hungry. If they have no predators, the problem becomes much worse, too. Deer can overpopulate very quickly.

Early winter scene

This doe and her yearling fawn are on the west side of the house in the vacant lot. This picture was taken in early December 2016. Notice the snow on top of the doe's nose. She has been rooting in the snow to get to dried forbs (weeds). Again, there is a total lack of concern about people. Both deer are completely aware of me as well as the neighbors who were out shoveling snow when this was taken.

    • It can seem that way, but deer are surprisingly adept at finding something to eat, even under the snow. We just had a big snowstorm roll through, though, and when the deer clear a spot on the side of the house, which they always do, I’ll toss out some apples. Deer LOVE apples.

    • They certainly have! People around here don’t even talk about it much because they are so common and it is an everyday occurrence to see deer virtually anywhere in town.

Feed me!

This pretty little buck and doe, flanked by wild turkeys, are in the yard of a friend. The lady fed the deer and turkeys twice a day, which is why the buck is looking back at me as if to say, "More? Feed me!"

This picture was taken during deer season and the lady's house is a safe haven. It is posted and no hunting is allowed. The picture was taken from her front deck and I was about eight feet from the buck. I had to zoom out to get as many of the turkeys in this shot as I could. To give an idea of sizes, though, the turkey directly behind the doe weighs on the order of 25 pounds.

West side doe

The picture was taken on the west side of our house, from the bathroom window. The metal pole between the doe and the camera marks the edge of our yard and the deer is in the vacant lot between our place and the neighbor's house in the background. She is also using the swath I just finished mowing. I'd just taken a bathroom break. Clearly, she is unconcerned by the smell of the mower, the handle of which is directly behind her. She is really more interested in what goodies were mowed down that she can easily get to.

    • Deer eat grasses, weeds, tree and bush branches, and even bark. Around here, there is quite a bit of food for them to eat, except when we have an extremely snowy and long winter. Even then, the deer in town fare better than the ones in the forest because most people plant bushes and trees and flower beds and gardens, and they set up windbreaks that hold in available heat.

Second winter scene

This is the same doe and fawn as in the previous image. They are walking down the fence line to the road and shortly after this was taken, they were walking down the middle of the road toward the west. Incidentally, this and the previous picture were taken in the early afternoon. Both of these deer are heading back from the river and going to feeding grounds northwest of where this was taken.

What are those dogs doing?

Taken in the early spring of 2017, this deer is standing at the edge of our yard on the west side of the house. She is intently curious about the neighbor's dogs. This is a young doe, no more than two-years-old and she is on her way to the river for a drink. 

Notice how lightly she is standing on her front feet and how her rear feet are forward to support more of her weight. From this position, she can easily pivot and jump in any direction, should the neighbor's dogs manage to come at her. (They didn't.)

    • Yes, Indeed. She is also fully aware of me, but to her way of thinking, I posed no threat at all and the dogs might. They are little dogs…chihuahuas…but she wasn’t taking any chances. To be fair to the dogs, they weren’t even aware that the deer was there. They were playing with each other.

Closeup of the buck

This is a closer picture of the buck that was in the previous image and he is a perfect forked horn. The lady has been feeding him since he was a newborn, two years earlier. All of these animals are wild, though, and they are free to come and go as they please.

Out in the back

This view is from our front porch, looking south. The deer are behind the house, almost directly between the side garden and the back garden. (Garden sage can barely be seen in the lower right of this picture.) I don't mind them getting in the garden when there is snow on the ground and purposely leave some garden plants in both gardens late in the year specifically for the deer.

This image was taken in early January 2017, between snowstorms. As with the previous two photos, this is a doe and a yearling fawn, but these are different deer than in the other images. This doe actually has two yearling fawns. The other is lagging behind, out of camera view.

What do you think?

16 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. I wish I could sit by a window or on a porch & have the pleasure of watching deer
    & wild animals go about their way & be free from predators, or even have the
    pure pleasure of watching wolves & wild dogs roam about, as you can tell I’m a
    animal lover that loves to watch the wild.

  2. This a superb post and enjoyed reading it. Its really interesting to read about these animals. I think today, the deer would thrive here and the grass is really long.
    However, got a few people here who would probably shoot them and have them for diner.
    Not nice but people just want food on the table and if it’s going spare, they will do that
    On Cornwall park they have sheep there and I would not be surprised if overnight they disappear. I don’t think they would they would mess with the beef cattle, the mothers or bulls would kill them.

    • There is some poaching that goes on here, too. However, if a person gets caught, the penalties are severe. One person a year or two ago was caught poaching and got a fine of $1100, loss of fishing and hunting privileges for 5 years, the rifle was confiscated, and since the guy’s new pickup was used to transport the deer, the pickup was also confiscated. He would have done jail time on top of all of that but got 3 years probation. Any law violation in that 3 years would cause the probation to be revoked and he’d need to do the jail time.

      Hunting and fishing are two of the 5 biggest revenue generators in Montana and they don’t take violations lightly. He was actually lucky. He poached outside of town and away from any houses. Those would have been even more charges against him.

        • That is less likely to happen here, at least in Montana and when it comes to wild game. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has considerable clout when it comes to enforcement of laws relating to wildlife. In part, that is because the citizens want it that way. One of the things that make Montana so special is the wildlife and we know it. A majority of the poaching and so forth is done by people from out of state or those who very recently moved here.

  3. A neat post. Though I would love to visit and see them in a town like that living in close proximity to them would be more troublesome to me than I would consider it worth. Especially the tick and flea problems they could present. Living in the southern USA and having lived through Rocky Mountain Spotted fever years ago, I stay aware of such animals potential to share diseases, but in more northern places that may not be a year round problem.

    • The deer do harbor fleas and ticks, but so do dogs, cats, cougars, bobcats, lynxes, elk, and just about every other warm-blooded critter we have around here. It isn’t bad in the winter and deer will occasionally even roll in the snow if there is a bad infestation. Fleas and ticks can’t take the cold. Housepets that get to go outside, like dogs, are actually a bigger vector for fleas and ticks than the deer are. Still, there is a reason they call it ROCKY MOUNTAIN spotted fever. We live in the Rockies. :))

      Some years are much worse than others, especially after mild winters, which don’t happen often. Of the last 5 years, only one winter was relatively mild by Montana standards. It only dipped below zero three times and rained more than it snowed. (That was the winter of 2015 and it followed an extremely bitter winter in 2014, when we hit -53 F and it went for an entire week without getting above 0 F.)

      • Didn’t realize Montana could go -53º! If we could get a dip that low we might be able to get rid of some of the bugs, but then there would just be new issues. C’est la vie in this fallen world. Yes, it is all of the critters that carry the pests and their pestilences, poor things, but in most areas of south we fight it all pretty much year round. The smaller critters keep even city folk fighting the risks.

        • Temperatures that low are the exception, rather than the rule. Temperatures of -20 are more common. It got down to -10 night before last and -3 last night. Our high-temperature today might reach 25 above. This weather is more usual in the first part of February rather than the last part and it means that March will almost certainly be coming in snowy and cold. The jet stream has dipped to near Texas, so this cold will gradually be moving east. In the southeast, that will probably mean a few more bouts of rain, but nice warm weather for several days.

          Weather like this does control fleas and ticks somewhat. Two years ago, there was a bad tick problem and we could scarcely go walking in the woods without picking up a tick. They were everywhere. The deer weren’t responsible, they were victims. The conditions were just right for lots of ticks.

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