Maybe Shakespeare had it right when it comes to Fair Oaks Ranch, a city just north of San Antonio, Texas struggling with an over population of deer. In the famous play, As You Like It, Shakespeare wrote “Can one desire too much of a good thing?”
Set in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, Fair Oaks Ranch’s featured attractions include two spectacular golf courses, rolling green hills with lush vegetation, and deer. Although the deer attract homeowners and visitors, too much of a good thing seems to be what is on the mind of Mayor Cheryl Landman recently.
Mayor Landum, with over 20 years of dealing with deer issues, has a bias for action when it comes to dealing with the struggles of the abundance of the wildlife in her community. A previous deer management committee from the early 2000’s dealt with the issues at the time by trapping and transporting 212 to Mexico.
Fair Oaks Ranch is representative of other communities across the country dealing with similar issues.
“We’ve never been national before,” Mayor Landman responded yesterday to an Examiner article about the issue. “Good job integrating the various data, information and other deer-related incidents.”
Although getting the word out is an important component of deer management, Mayor Landman realizes garnering shared expectations and support of citizens is critical to success. Not only are residents dealing with an over abundance of white-tail deer, a substantial growth of axis deer have made their way to Fair Oaks Ranch.
Ellen Reaney, a new resident of Fair Oaks Ranch since October, let her dog out to enjoy a morning earlier this month, she had no indication there was pending danger in the back yard. Her 60-pound Labrador mix “was attacked and gored by a buck” Reaney informed her neighbors later.
“I didn’t know they were back there when I let him out,” Reaney wrote online. “I don’t feed the deer. I don’t have vegetables or any other attractants in my yard and they still managed to get it. Please stop feeding the deer. They are dangerous. My dog is part of the family and he is in serious condition.”
Like many communities, Fair Oaks Ranch, just northwest of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country, is struggling with the inevitable complications associated with their growing population amidst the natural habitats of deer. These problems are especially magnified during rutting season, when bucks are exceedingly aggressive, unpredictable, and dangerous due to their elevated testosterone levels.
“My dog is slowly recovering,” Reaney reported Sunday. “He was in the ICU for 4 days and has 2 large incisions. He had a lot of internal damage including cuts to his lungs and liver, as well as puncture wounds to his belly and diaphragm.”
During rutting season more people are killed by deer than any other time of year. If one get too close to a buck during the rut, there is a high probability of being charged. Larry Heywood, a college junior visiting his grandparents in nearby Boerne for Thanksgiving week, learned a lesson about rutting season he won’t soon forget.
“I was driving along Upper Cibolo Creek near Boerne Lake and noticed two bucks locked with their heads down fighting,” explained Heywood. “I decided to get out and take a picture. Before I could even get my camera focused the bigger buck came charging at me. I barely made it as I jumped back in and that buck kept attacking at me even after I was in the car.”
Usually between 5 and 10 people are killed in aggressive encounters with bucks each year. About 29,000 people are injured and over 200 people are killed annually in deer-vehicle collisions in the US, according to the Texas Wildlife Department and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. About 1.5 million deer are killed, totaling over $1.5 billion in property damages.
“The days get shorter and it’s breeding season,” said Michael Bennett, a resident of Comfort, Texas in the heart of deer territory. As days shorten, the rutting bucks are experiencing testosterone increases and all they care about is mating with any eligible doe—and just about any doe is eligible right now.”
“Although these bucks usually live within a square mile from where they were born, when rutting starts, all bets are off,” noted Bennett. “We’ve seen bucks running five miles away following the scent of a doe during the rut.”
Bennett says that drivers and anyone outdoors should realize that deer move around primarily through the night and in the hours just “before and after dawn and sunset, but during this time of year these bucks go well into the middle of the day.”
“Just know that if you see a deer run across the road, there is very likely a buck right behind it,” Bennett cautioned. “Besides the deaths and injuries, some of us don’t think about the other concerns like Lyme Disease, property and garden damage, and declining herd health that comes along with a higher deer population.”
Unfortunately, bucks are dangerous this time a year at many locations:
- In 2011, a 55-year-old Canadian farmer was killed after “numerous piercings” from a rutting deer. Authorities discovered his body in fenced field and reported he had “been gored to death while trying to feed the animals.”
- In 2007, 66-year-old John Henry Frix of Georgia was found dead inside a pen and “gored several times in the upper body by a red deer’s antlers” on his game while the buck was in the rut.
- In 2004, English farmer Clifford Colling, 73, died on his venison farm after “going to an enclosure where his deer were being kept during the rutting season. Two concerned colleagues who went to look for him were also attacked by a stag. One of them suffered head, leg and arm injuries.”
- In 2000, Kansas producer Margaret Hershberger, 75, was killed in her yard “by a deer that she and her husband raised from infancy.”
Fair Oaks Ranch held a Townhall meeting on Nov. 15, 2015 with 260 people in attendance voting to provide a sense to civic leaders of what citizens believed. Key findings indicate 74% of these voters supported a program to reduce the number of deer and 69% agreed there were too many. Almost 40% said the city should spend up to $50,000 annually on a deer management program. Almost 30% said no money should be spent while the 30% said up $100,000.
Of the citizens voting at the meeting, the majority favored an ordinance banning supplemental feeding which mirrors results of about one-third of the residents who admit they feed deer with some regularity. About 45% said they or a family member had been involved in a deer-vehicle collision in the city.
The most popular choices for deer management were:
- Write and enforce a City ordinance to prohibit feeding.
- Trap, transport and process.
- Develop a public education program and trap, transport and translocate.
- About 9% said do nothing.