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Invasion of the urban deer

August 14, 2011

A homeowner might assume that he or she has the right to what lawyers call “quiet enjoyment” of his or her property, but that’s not the case in Bloomington, Indiana, where much of the East End is overridden by scores of urban deer who inflict daily damage upon our gardens. City ordinances forbid us to build fences that are high enough to keep out the herds of deer, and we may not kill them within city limits. The does give birth to twins each spring, doubling the population within a relatively short time, yet the city does nothing, preferring to fiddle while Rome burns.

The population of Bloomington has divided into two highly vocal groups: Bambi-lovers, who revere the sight of a stag with twelve points moving grandly through their front yard, or the sight of Mama-doe with her spotted twins gamboling beside her. Bambi-lovers tend to have only lawns, shrubs and birdfeeders instead of gardens. (Deer love birdfeeders; they can empty a conventional birdfeeder overnight by sucking seeds out of the feeder troughs with almost-prehensile tongues.) On the opposing party, Bambi-haters tend to be gardeners who are exasperated to the point of desperation by the endless predation of these four-legged menaces.

My husband and I have not been able to have a productive garden for at least four or five years due to incursions by deer. This year we spent a hundred dollars on fence posts and a product that was advertised as “deer netting,” which came in rolls that were seven feet high and fifty feet long. We wrapped the garden area in seven-foot netting, planted the garden and watched things flourish. The deer also watched the garden flourish through the netting, eyeing the goodies and debating their attack. One night the fence was jumped and the garden damaged. We responded by extending the existing fence posts by affixing bamboo stakes to their upper ends, and stringing lengths of hairy jute twine between them along the entire perimeter, thus raising the height to 9-1/2 feet. This gave us one month of peace before the deer made an assault upon the netting itself, smashing through it like a fancy dancer smashes out of the top of an oversized cake, breaching the netting in three different places. We have patched the netting twice but even a double layer of net will fail when a 130-pound doe crashes through it.

The garden fence before the height was extended.

The city finally set up a Deer Task Force to review options, but nothing has been done. The Task Force sent out a questionnaire to the city asking people to vote on how they wanted to address the crisis. Several of the options (capture and neuter the deer, capture and release the deer) were completely unrealistic and ought not have been included on the questionnaire, as it is well known that deer tend to die of fright and shock when captured. Rumors are going around that the Mayor is a Bambi-lover; from the look of the questionnaire it appears probable that Bambi-lovers are in the majority on the Task Force.

Deer cannot be administered contraception by dart-gun, for if the dart enters the flesh wrongly, the dose is ineffective and the meat becomes unsafe to use. They cannot be trapped and released easily due to their high rate of death by shock; and even if it were somehow possible to trap them and haul them away for release elsewhere, the farmers would howl in outrage if live deer were dumped in their fields. But they can’t be dumped in the state parks either, for the parks are so over-populated with deer that a cull is necessary each fall in order to keep the deer from starving to death and to maintain the understory from ecological collapse. The only reasonable way to address the ever-exploding population of deer is to kill them, preferably giving the meat to the local food banks to feed the needy. The ever-doubling population explosion here in the city means that we’re headed for an ecological collapse of our own, with hungry deer eating bark from trees and decimating all the landscaping shrubs. The city has admitted that Griffy Lake Reserve has been horribly damaged by deer that have destroyed the native understory, leaving little behind but invasive bush honeysuckle. Damage of this kind to landscapes takes decades to restore.

Other municipalities have held annual deer culls with sharpshooters, and this is the only viable option for Bloomington given the numbers of deer. The fall rut is approaching, and stags become aggressive for several months during that time. Several people in my neighborhood have been menaced by aggressive stags while walking down the streets; it’s only a matter of time before a mother pushing a baby stroller is attacked. A dog was killed by a doe last year. In Carbondale, Illinois, a deer attacked three students on the university campus. Bambi is simply not a safe visitor to have around on a 24/7 basis.

At this point my husband and I have expended several hundred dollars on garden plants that have been destroyed, ineffectual fencing that has been damaged, loss of produce to our kitchen and the cost of our own aching and middle-aged labor in the hot sun. We are pacifistic by nature and oppose every war the nation has waged since the 1950s; we favor strict gun control; we are not gun-wavers. But we are so revengefully angry at the deer and the city’s unwillingness to do anything tangible in the way of an urban hunt that if it were legal, we would go out TODAY and buy a rifle to cold-bloodedly kill the deer ourselves. The deer problem is ultimately the state’s responsibility, for it has not encouraged the massive amount of hunting that is neccessary to bring the deer population back down to a carrying capacity.

Bambi-lovers invariably protest “But the deer are so beautiful! How can you not love them?” Yes, they are extremely beautiful; but that has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything. It’s an idiotic statement to make when there is a real and vexing problem.

(See my video from last winter showing the piles of dung in the yard,


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  1. Oh, do I ever feel your pain! Raccoons and rabbits are the plague of my garden. We keep the deer out by hanging bars of the stinkiest soap we can find wrapped in an old pair of pantyhose and hang them on a pole. If that doesn’t work, buy a garden sprayer and use a mixture of hot sauce and water to spray on the plants to keep them out. Just sprinkling cayenne pepper on the plants works too.

  2. Techniques that work for occasional deer don’t seem to apply in our yard! 😦 I think we must be located on a deer power-point that gives them unbelievable ability to jump over high fences and ignore stenches that would drop a human at a hundred yards. Our neighbors around the corner have expended more than $500 on motion-detector sprayers, stink posts, nylon monofilament, Liquid Fence, and flashing lights, but nothing works for long. They told me ruefully that the deer are initially repelled, but then figure out how to surmount the challenge in less than a month.

  3. They are many. And they are ravenous. And they double in ranks each year. Be afraid! Be very afraid!!!

    (Sounds like zombies, doesn’t it.)

  4. Haha! It does sound like zombies. But with zombies, we have multiple movies to watch in order to know how to defeat them. Not so much with deer.

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