Oh deer, it’s that time of year


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) provide abundant recreation opportunities for hunters and wildlife watchers.

Unfortunately, they can also cost us millions of dollars every year. Imagine driving down a poorly lit road at night, when suddenly a deer appears on the road. Despite your honking and screeching brakes, the animal remains frozen in its tracks, exhibiting to perfection “the deer in headlights look.” Deer vehicle collisions are incredibly dangerous and often costly.

Now is the time when deer are on the move, and extra caution is advised when out on the roadways.

So, what is happening in November that increases the chances of Ohio motorists colliding with deer? Some people may think that hunting causes an increase in deer movement, particularly across roads and highways, but this is not always the case.

Research conducted in Pennsylvania of deer wearing Global Positioning System or GPS radio collars were tracked during the weeks before, during and after muzzleloader and firearms seasons. The research concluded there were no changes in deer activity patterns due to the hunting season. The truth is deer are on the move at this time of year for other reasons.

Possibly the biggest reason for the increase in deer movement is the breeding season (rut), which takes place October through December in Ohio. In November, deer are entering the peak of their breeding season. Males are actively searching for mates, which frequently bring them across roadways. The total distance a single deer moves during a 24-hour period varies from one to four miles, but that distance is increased dramatically in males during the breeding season. While some female deer may take a brief breeding excursion outside their normal range in search of a mate, the majority stay put and do not travel more than normal during the breeding season.

Yet another factor that can contribute to increased deer movements is food availability. This time of year, deer need to increase their food consumption in preparation for winter. Depending on the available food resources in their home range, deer may have to travel farther to find enough food, which can lead to additional travel across roadways to reach alternate resources including your backyard.

Are deer destroying your landscape by eating everything? Is the cost of replanting every year due to deer damage overwhelming? Discharging firearms in municipal areas is not only illegal, but also out of the question.

These questions came up during a recent presentation with the Trowel and Tractor Garden Club. Those in attendance noted that deer proof plants do not exist. They are correct plants are not foolproof all the time and in all places. That is why there are almost no plants that are “deer-proof”, but merely resistant. Keep in mind lists of resistant plants will vary by region, deer pressure, food source, and deer preferences. Which plants are resistant will also vary depending on the season of the year. When deer are hungry in early spring, especially after a long, hard winter, most anything green (such as your tulips) is a treat.

Another member told me about their way of controlling deer in their landscape. They blend a dozen eggs in their blender till thoroughly mixed, and then apply the mixture to landscape plants using a hand sprayer.

This method intrigued me and sent me on a research mission. I sent an email to Marne Tichenell, program specialist in wildlife, with the Ohio State University.

Being skeptical of the egg mixture, I was quite surprised by her answer. Tichenell said egg solids are one of the fear-inducing repellents. They work because their sulfurous scent mimics predator odors. Carnivores (that feed heavily on meat) will have sulfur in their urine and other bodily excretions. She also suggested using egg solids, blood products and/or hot pepper. Mix them all up or use them separately, but always have a few different repellents on hand to switch it up during the year. Deer acclimate to smells very easily, especially when food is involved.

If you find yourself replanting your landscape, choose plants that are normally resistant to deer damage. Trees to consider include buckeyes, honey locust, pines, river birch, and spruce. Some shrubs that are generally deer resistant include junipers, lilacs, spireas and viburnums. Some herbaceous plants to consider as resistant include astilbe, barrenwort, bee balm, blanket flower, bleeding heart, columbine, dead nettle, false indigo, ferns, globe thistle, hellebore, hollyhock, lungwort, lupine, meadowsweet, monkshood, mugwort, peony, primrose, purple coneflower, Russian sage, Siberian bugloss, speedwell, sunflower and yarrow.

Most ornamental grasses are considered deer resistant, including such ones as blue fescue, little bluestem, blue oat grass, maiden grass and reed grass. Many bulbs generally are deer resistant, and include daffodils, fritillaries, Dutch iris, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, squill and alliums.

Education is always an ongoing experience. Thanks to the Trowel and Tractor Garden Club for teaching me a new way to control deer.

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