10 Neat Things About Deer
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

January 12, 2015

If these bottomless-pit creatures feed on your garden, perhaps you hope this will be 10 delicious recipes containing deer. Well, it isn't. But these animals are fascinating. It won't bring back your honeysuckle, but it might give you something to do while waiting for the electrified fence to be installed.

1. Moose are deer.

So are caribou. There are five North American species of deer: moose and caribou, of course; elk, mule deer and the ubiquitous white-tailed deer. While all five species are found in the Rockies, when you see something you call a deer east of the Great Divide, it's probably a white-tailed.

2. Red deer.

Red deer are old-world animals, not found in Canada. Elk look a lot like red deer, though, and the first Europeans in Western Canada presumed that that's just what they were when they named Red Deer, Alberta.

3. Little deer.

The smallest deer is the pudú of South America, which stands just 12 to 14 inches high. It has a solitary habit, coming into contact with other pudús just for mating. Having evolved as a loner, it is very susceptible to parasites when it does come into contact with other animals, particularly domesticated dogs.

4. Antlers.

All male deer grow antlers of some kind, and all members of the genus shed their antlers. They grow, starting in spring, as a spongy tissue covered in velvety skin. The shortening days of autumn trigger the antlers to stop growing and calcify into hard bone. The skin peels off, helped by the buck who scrapes his antlers against trees. This is all in preparation for the rutting season, when bucks fight each other for the rights to mate with nearby females. After the mating season, the antlers fall off.

5. Locking horns not a good idea.

Sometimes in these fights, males actually lock horns. That works fine for caribou, but for white-tailed dear, the horns can become hopelessly entangled and nobody gets the girl. The males will both die a slow death from starvation and lack of water.

6. Antler ID.

Impress your friends when you're in the Rockies by identifying deer based on their antlers and other characteristics. Moose, with their massive stature and palmate antlers, are pretty obvious, but elk are also extremely large; you can distinguish elk from moose, in part, by their pointy, multi-branched horns. Caribou have distinctive antlers that have a branch curved backward and a smaller branch curved forward; the females have antlers too, though usually smaller than the males. Mule deer are often misidentified as white-tailed deer, but their antlers divide in forks, while white-taileds have single points projecting up from forward-curving main branches. You can spot a mule deer from a great distance, though: they don't run, they jump, with all four legs off the ground, like gazelles.

7. Deer-proofing.

About the only thing you can do to deer-proof your garden is to completely enclose it with a 10-foot high fence. Even then your efforts could be foiled enough if hard-packed snow piles up. If you cannot build a massive fence or you don't want to, it's best to employ multiple strategies and accept a less-than-perfect outcome.

8. Deer-discouraging.

There are many plants that deer don't care for and there are many lists of deer-resistant plants online. Problem is, a lot of those lists include plants that are readily eaten by some deer in some areas, including yarrow, delphinium, chrysanthemum, hosta, aruncus, astilbe, penstemon, monarda and thalictrum. Hands down, the best books on the subject are Deer in My Garden (2 volumes) by Carolyn Singer. The books are self-published and used to be very difficult to get, but they're available on now.

9. Deer repellents.

All of these work in some places, sometimes, with some deer: hanging slivers of Irish Spring soap at two-feet height around the periphery of the garden; peeing around the garden (easier for men!); spraying a mixture of beaten raw egg, soap and water; and hanging CDs which twirl in the breeze, creating a sense of movement.

10. If you can't beat 'em, feed em.

The best idea is to use all, changing tactics every two weeks or so. Some people give in and feed the deer in winter - not a good idea because, come spring, they'll still go after your hosta. Try Bobbex instead - it works!

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