Despite the rack on his head, he looked at me with the insolent glare of a rebellious teenager as he munched off the clumps of buds topping the geraniums growing on my deck.
Somehow, I don’t expect to see full-grown bucks right outside my window, chowing down on my flowers. It’s not dignified.
I was floored—but not silenced—to see another one, complete with headgear, come into view alongside the first. One had four points on one antler, while all the rest were three.
As they destroyed my summer display of colour, I lurched out of my chair and tore out onto the deck, shouting and clapping my hands at them, but their response was annoyance rather than fright and flight.
So, what do you do about a pair of mature mule deer who simply refuse to behave as they’re expected to and bounce madly away when faced with the first twitch of a human nose?
This is not natural behaviour. Parading around in human yards, clattering down city streets in the middle of the day and not turning tail at the first sight of a human is un-natural deer behaviour. Heck, it’s un-natural wildlife behaviour.
But, the trend around North America is towards increasing aggression in deer facing humans in their communities.
Kelowna Conservation Officer Terry Myroniuk admits they had a number of complaints earlier in the year about aggressive deer, but most of those had to do with dogs.
Either the dogs were present at the conflict or the deer had been chased before by dogs and they wanted no part of dogs. Or, the does were standing their ground to protect young fawns.
At this time in the year, as the fawns are more mobile, mom’s instinctive protectiveness cools and they’re not as aggressive, he says, but they can still get riled up by a dog and become aggressive.
He notes that our urban deer have to contend with dogs, vehicles and people who harass them, so they become defensive.
I guess I harass them, but apparently it’s not considered legal harassment of wildlife if you just shoo them off your property. That’s SHOO them off, not SHOOT.
In fact, he said one of the answers to our deer conflicts is more people need to shoo them away from gardens and the attractive landscaping we plant.
Another is to stop planting such attractive landscaping, full of that high-value, nutrient-dense deer browse—but who wants to live amongst nothing but sagebrush, pines, gravel and rocks?
Exclusion fencing is another answer Myroniuk suggests, but he admits it’s not pretty. I already have a truly ugly chicken wire fence around my vegetable garden after they stole all my tomatoes one year, leaving the green ones scattered about on the lawn with just a bite taken out of each.
And, I can’t imagine living in a compound surrounded by six-foot high wire mesh fencing.
Myroniuk points out that, since there’s no discharge of firearms permitted in town, and few other predators for deer to be concerned about, it’s not only a protected zone, but also attractive because it’s full of yummy, healthy feed.
He discounts the argument that we’ve moved into their territory and they were here first, but says they don’t need to be in cities; there’s plenty of wild habitat for them.
They are actually attracted into cities by the safe haven we provide for them, full of good food.
If the trend toward more aggressive behaviour to humans continues, he says more communities may have to discuss deer culls or other options to reduce their numbers—or at least to discourage them from considering cities deer habitat.
Several B.C. cities have looked at various ways to reduce urban deer numbers in recent years, but not without a lot of controversy.
In the meantime, be aware of the possibility that urban deer may lose their timidity and become aggressive. Keep your dog leashed and away from areas frequented by deer.
If a deer lays its ears back and lowers its head, be prepared for an attack. Stay upright at all costs, as their hooves are extremely sharp and can be lethal weapons.
Protect your head, and back off to some sort of shelter in the event of an attack, advises the new Wildsafe B.C. program, an outgrowth of the familiar Bear Aware program.
Incidentally, I’m not much for blowing my own horn, but I must thank the folks at Ducks Unlimited Canada for selecting one of my Trail Mix columns from last year, Consider the Cost of Using Up Ecosystems, for third place in the annual Outdoors Writers of Canada competition.
It’s the second Wetlands Appreciation Award I’ve received. I came in first place among my colleagues in the Canadian outdoors writing field last year.
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Kelowna Capital News