Deer are among the most familiar animals of Washington, and in many places they are the largest wildlife that people encounter.
During summer, mule deer are tan to light brown; during winter, they are a salt-and-pepper gray. Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are our most common deer subspecies. Many of the physical characteristics of black-tailed deer are similar to those of the larger mule deer. Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus) are found in limited areas along the lower Columbia River. Deer eat a wide variety of plants, but their main food item is browse—the growing tips of trees and shrubs. Deer also eat fruit, nuts, acorns, fungi, lichens, and farm and garden crops if available.
Deer eat rapidly and, being ruminants, initially chew their food only enough to swallow it.
Many wooded suburban environments, such as parks, greenbelts, golf courses, and roadsides, meet the needs of deer. Mule deer can move long distances during spring and fall migrations to avoid mountain snow. Unlike elk, deer bucks do not herd groups of females; however, a single mature buck may breed with several females. In winter, deer may be observed in larger groups of 15 to 30, usually grouping because they are concentrated in limited winter habitat. Cougars, bears, coyotes, and domestic dogs prey on adult deer; young fawns fall victim to these species as well as to eagles and bobcats. To observe deer, position yourself at dawn or dusk near cover in a good deer-feeding area.
Winter can be a good time to view deer because they are often concentrated at lower elevations. Deer have regular routes through their home range; these become well-worn trails that look a little like narrow human footpaths. Browsing by deer can usually be identified since twig ends deer have browsed have a ragged appearance, while those browsed by rabbits, porcupines, and other rodents have a neat, clipped appearance. However, when deer browse new growth they leave a clean, blunt stem-end, where the tender shoots break off. An area of flattened vegetation 3 to 4 feet long and 2 to 3 feet wide indicates where a deer has bedded down. Although property owners with large acreage can provide significant deer habitat, those with small acreage can also contribute. Conserve vegetation along streams and other freshwater areas and avoid placing roads near these areas, which are among the most favored habitats of deer. If a contractor is clearing vegetation, make sure the contract states that the contractor will be held responsible for plant restoration or alternate improvements if areas set aside for deer are inadvertently cleared.
Property fences and wire fences constructed on ranges used by deer should have a 17-inch gap at the bottom to let fawns and adult deer pass beneath them, and be no more than 4 feet high to let adults jump safely over them. To reduce the risks of a predator locating her fawn, a doe seeks seclusion just prior to birth, trying to be less conspicuous by avoiding other deer. If deer damage is occurring on commercial property, a wildlife agent from your local wildlife department can assist you in evaluating damage-control options.
When deer browsing is moderate to severe, or a landowner isn’t willing to tolerate even a limited amount of damage, fencing to exclude deer is the only option. If you build a deer fence yourself, carefully measure the area to insure the efficient use of fence rolls. Deer can be excluded from areas with a properly constructed and maintained 6 to 8-foot high fence (Figs. The larger the area being enclosed, the more travel patterns will be disrupted, and the more pressure the fence will receive.
Large areas with high deer pressure should be fenced with woven-wire deer fencing or a high-tensile electric wire.
Electric fences: A properly designed and maintained electric fence can be very effective at preventing deer from entering an enclosed area as small as a vegetable garden or an area as large as a commercial orchard.
A fence with eight wires evenly spaced to 80 inches is believed to be adequate to keep deer out of an enclosed area (Fig. To prevent deer from pushing over or moving a mini fence surrounding a tree or shrub, the fence should be 5 feet high and staked to the ground (Figs. An inexpensive and subtle deer barrier can be made from 100-pound test monofilament fishing line tied to sturdy, 5-foot tall stakes, or attached to a structure. Commercially available tree guards protect trees from damage done to the bark from deer antlers and gnawing from other wildlife (Fig. Plastic or nylon tubes, netting, and bud caps have all been used successfully to protect small transplants and growing tree tips. Some people see cattle guards as eyesores, but they provide the most effective protection for ungated driveways on properties that are otherwise fenced to keep deer out. Before installing a cattle guard, it’s important to determine how many deer use the driveway (assuming a deer fence encloses the perimeter of your property).

Deer repellents use a disagreeable odor or taste, or a combination of both, to dissuade deer from eating the treated plant. Numerous odor and taste repellents have been developed to reduce deer damage, and new products are continually becoming available. Like most animals, deer are neophobic (fearful of novel objects), and many scare tactics take advantage of this behavior.
Although a deer fence or other barrier is the best insurance against damage, landscaping with deer-resistant plants is a more aesthetic alternative. Deer develop predictable travel patterns, and prior damage is often a good indicator of potential future problems. When you see brake lights, it could be because the driver ahead of you has spotted a deer. Try to drive more slowly at night, giving yourself time to see a deer with your headlights.
Deer hooves slip on pavement and a deer may fall in front of your vehicle just when you think it is jumping away. Deer whistles, small devices that can be mounted on your vehicle, emit a shrill sound that supposedly alerts deer nearby.
If a collision with a deer seems imminent, take your foot off the accelerator and brake lightly. If you accidentally hit and kill a deer, try to move the animal off the road--providing you can do so in complete safety. If the deer is wounded, call the non-emergency number of the local police department and describe the animal’s location. Deer are not considered a significant source of infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans or domestic animals.
Anyone who believes they may have contracted any disease from a deer should consult a physician as soon as possible, explaining to the doctor the possible sources of infection. Because legal status, hunting restrictions, and other information about deer change, contact your WDFW Regional Office for updates.
Mule deer, black-tailed deer, and white-tailed deer are classified as game animals (WAC 232-12-007). The Columbian white-tailed deer is classified as a state and federal Endangered animal and may not be hunted or killed (WAC 232-12-014).
1, 2), or mule deer, inhabit areas east of the Cascades in Washington, preferring open forests and sagebrush meadows. Mule deer summering in the Cascades migrate as far as 80 miles to reach adequate winter range. In many deer populations, hunting dampens the effects of other mortality factors; as hunting mortality decreases, other forms of mortality tend to increase, and vice versa. A deer’s first antlers are fully grown spikes or small, forked antlers with two points. They show up at the same time and follow the same trails, taking paths of least resistance.
This is a critical time for deer and, if harassed, deer will expend vital energy to flee the harassment.
The trails are clear of low vegetation, but are not bare unless they are in shade or are heavily used by deer and other mammals.
Rather than biting off vegetation like a horse does, deer grasp the plants between the upper pad and their lower incisors, and with a quick upward jerk of the head, snap or tear off a mouthful of vegetation.
As shown here in a lateral view of a mule deer skull, deer lack upper incisors and canine teeth, and must press foods between their hard upper palates and their bottom teeth.
Deer sleep in dense cover or tall grasses and may return to the same spot over many days.
Doe deer call to their hidden fawns with a soft, gentle mewing sound, and fawns respond quickly to this call by seeking the side of their mother. Keep in mind that deer may damage ornamental plants and gardens, and might also attract animals that prey on deer, such as cougar and bear. Deer use hiding cover year-round during resting periods throughout the day, but it is especially important during hunting season and the first few months of a fawn’s life. These activities might include prescribed burning to rejuvenate shrub species, fertilizing of old fields to increase palatability of forage to deer, and not mowing areas that provide food and shelter. Those who live on the edges of new developments, or adjacent to undeveloped areas, may experience higher deer damage than others whose homes are within developments or otherwise buffered by urbanization.
Your local wildlife office may also have cost-share or other programs available to help you manage deer on your property.
However, traditional deer fences are not always practical because of appearance, zoning restrictions, cost, or rugged terrain. A poorly constructed deer fence is dangerous to the deer, and will not protect your valuable plants. Heavy-duty black polypropylene deer fencing is commercially available and useful where other fencing is visually obtrusive. An electric fence with eight wires evenly spaced to 80 inches is believed to be adequate to keep deer out of an enclosed area. A mini deer fence should be at least 5 feet high, placed far enough out from the plant to prevent deer from accessing the plant and causing damage, and be firmly staked to the ground.

These have the advantage of being less expensive and obtrusive than full fences, allowing deer access to surrounding food plants while protecting others. However, deer can easily break lightweight netting with their hooves to get to desirable plants and songbirds can get entangled in excess netting.
In areas where deer concentrations are heavy, deer will test the cattle guard and are known to jump over one that is undersized. Alternating repellents may help keep deer confused and more wary of eating your plants. However, deer soon get accustomed to new things and damage resumes after they realize no actual harm will come to them.
When a deer comes into its adjustable, motion-detecting range, a sharp burst of water is sprayed at the animal. Any new plantings added to an existing landscape or garden already suffering from severe deer damage will likely also be browsed. Deer will cross roads at any time of the day or night, creating a hazard for the vehicles, passengers, and deer.
Watch for other deer-- they will move fast to catch up with leaders, mothers, or mates and may not pay attention to traffic.
Lowering the brightness of your dashboard lights slightly will make it easier to see deer. Otherwise, report the location of the deer’s body to the city, county, or state highway department with jurisdiction for the road.
Emphasize that the injured deer is a traffic hazard to help ensure that someone will come quickly. However, as you would when dealing with any wild animal, it is recommended that you wear rubber gloves if you need to handle a sick or dead deer, and wash your hands afterwards. When alarmed, white-tailed deer raise their flaglike tail, displaying the white underside. They also have a good sense of smell; stay downwind of the feeding area to prevent deer from detecting your scent.
However, during winter deer can often be observed without harassment by using binoculars and spotting scopes to scan open, sunny areas, especially those with significant shrub cover.
Deer browsing results in twig ends having a ragged appearance; plants browsed by rabbits, porcupines, and other rodents appear neatly clipped. When browse and other green foods are no longer available, deer strip bark from young trees. These rubbing sites also communicate their presence and breeding readiness to other deer.
Deer can also be killed by dogs, either directly or indirectly, because fleeing burns up energy needed to combat cold and starvation. If a deer fence exists nearby, ask the property owner about its effectiveness, its construction, and who built it. Incredibly, deer will try to either crawl under or squeeze through a fence before jumping over it. Stronger netting material is commercially available from bird-control outlets and companies selling polypropylene deer fencing. Repellents are more appropriate for short-term rather than long-term problems and are the most practical for non commercial users experiencing low to moderate deer damage. As with repellents, a given tactic will work on some deer, but no single one seems to work on all of them.
A walk or drive through the neighborhood or a visit to the neighbors can give you an idea of what plants are less palatable to deer.
A large deer population can create competition for food, causing deer to eat many plants that they normally would avoid. Adult black-tailed deer bucks weigh 140 to 200 pounds and adult does weigh 90 to 130 pounds. Washington state species that grow antlers each year include deer, elk, moose, and mountain caribou. Typically, deer feed in open habitats such as meadows and clearcuts, retreating to more secure areas, such as thickets and closed canopy forests, to rest and chew their cud. Deer in wild hunted areas will probably not stay around long if they notice you; deer in areas where hunting is not permitted are more likely to tolerate your presence.
When a deer is walking on a slippery surface, such as mud or snow, its hooves are likely to be spread into a V, which helps keep the deer from sliding forward. Where cover is limited, providing large, disturbance-free areas may still encourage use by deer.
Insurance adjusters claim that more car damage and personal injury is caused when drivers attempt to avoid collision with a deer and instead collide with guardrails or roll down grades. This will prevent scavengers from being attracted onto the road, and eliminate a potential traffic hazard. If needed, extensions can be attached to the top of the fence to prevent deer or elk from jumping over.

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