By Robert Lucke
This is a strange year for the deer population in this part of Montana. First, there was the deer gnat that killed hundreds of white-tailed deer in this area. And throughout most of the later summer and fall, many more deer were seen closer to civilization than is normal. Maybe it is so because there is so little nutrition in native grasses and such due to the drought. Whatever the reason, this has been a summer and fall of deer consuming many area flower and vegetable gardens.
The Havre office of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a pamphlet titled Living with Deer. It offers several practical suggestions when folks are overrun with deer.
"Deer can cause several types of problems in residential settings, from personal property damage and crop destruction to expensive car/deer accidents. The most common complaint is deer damage to vegetable gardens, fruit trees and ornamentals. It is not easy or cheap to keep unwanted deer away and often the best solution may be a greater understanding and tolerance of deer."
Try what you may but remember, the pamphlet warns, deer are highly adaptive. They soon learn that a dog is on a chain or fenced, that scarecrows are not so scary, that repellents are not really that bad, short fences are easy to jump, and holes and gaps in fences are easy to find.
"There are many deer repellents on the market and more coming out all the time. However, many of them have proven to be unsatisfactory. Some are only effective for light to moderate deer problems. Many do not last long and are ignored during periods of high deer concentration.Other repellents are easily washed away by rain or watering and require constant reapplication. Some of the repugnant repellents not only keep deer out of the yard, they keep you out as well. Check with your local nursery man and see what has proven effective in your area. Ivory soap shaved over and around smaller plants, such as tulips and many annuals, has proven effective as long as you can see the soap."
The pamphlet suggests that fencing is the best deterrent for deer around yards and gardens. However, it goes on to point out that deer can easily jump a 5-foot fence and a few can jump an 8-footer. Likewise, deer have been known to "broad jump" streams 14 feet wide. Knowing that, a fence designed so that the deer cannot see where it is jumping is probably a good deterrent. Designing electric fences, double and angled fences is also discussed.
"Individual plants may be protected with nylon or wire fencing installed immediately around the plant. "
"A free-roaming dog within a fenced yard is a strong deterrent. If you are not crazy about having a traditional fence, the new buried no fence' cables with an electronic dog collar are effective. With the no-fence' you do not have a fence to look at or to mow around; your dog stays in the yard, and, hopefully, the dog keeps the deer out. Because deer visit yards at night, it is important that the dog have access to the yard all hours."
The pamphlet goes on to say that it is possible to landscape with plants that deer do not normally feed on. But, it warns, during severe winters and food shortages in other seasons, deer might just begin to eat things they do not really care for.
"To keep deer out, you must be consistent in your efforts. Remember that when deer numbers increase and when food becomes scarce, deer may eat plants that they otherwise avoid, ignore repellents and overcome their fear of scare devices. No single technique may work for keeping deer out of your yard all of the time. It is recommended that you use a combination of methods for best results."
For further information or copies of the pamphlet Living with Deer, contact the Havre FWP office at 265-6177.