When we first moved out to the farm we’d see deer in the back field along the woods line almost daily. It was so common that I began to give them names based on some characteristic so that I could tell which herd had come. There were about three small herds that would come through, each here a few days, then moving on. A few days after a herd left, another would show. Once in a while we spotted a buck among the does, but not very often; never a trophy – usually a button buck up to a four point, and once, a decent sized six point.
They never became a problem. They stayed out of the hay shelter and the garden / CSA field. Mostly they stayed along the edges and grazed the grasses. Sometimes at night they’d come up to the house and nibble down some hosta plants, but it didn’t bother us much. Growing up on a hillside above a small town, the deer reminded me of the ones that came into our backyard in the early foggy morning. As I was getting ready for school, I’d watch from the kitchen window as they nibbled away at our peach trees. That sentimentality was still with me.
And then, without any apparent reason, they all disappeared. At first we thought the hunters may have scattered them, and because in the woods behind us, poaching is common, maybe they either were thinned out or scared out permanently. It is not uncommon to hear gun shots year long, mostly in the mornings and early evenings. A few times over the years our local town “newspaper” carried a story about different families that never go to the grocery store, but grow and hunt their own. I knew one of the families, and their freezer wasn’t very big. It all added up to everyone but the authorities….we always laughed it off.
One evening at an event, I was sitting with a local, seasoned hunter/ trapper who knew the wooded area behind our farm and I told him that for years now I have hardly ever seen a deer, and the herds have disappeared. He told me it wasn’t hunting or poaching, but a virus, which later I found to be called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which was killing off many of the deer in our area. The state had confirmed a localized outbreak in Tuckahoe, and since there are no curative measures, it would have to run its course. He assured me that the deer population would rebuild itself over the years, and the grocery stores would not be so crowded.
This spring the deer came back. We first noticed a doe and two spotted fawns in the little field off to the side of our house, and not long after, another few does and fawns joined them. Ever since, we have seen this herd almost daily either in the back field, the back yard, or the field beside our place. Over the summer the fawns out grew their spots and their coats turned bronze, and now to winter grey. We also noticed that one of the deer in the group was a young, skittish button buck.
On the east side of the back field there is a fenced in area where I once grew strawberries, but is now taken over with white clover. I never mowed it down, but let it grow high. The deer easily jump the fence and I often see them in there grazing the clover in the late afternoon and early evening.
But this new herd, unlike those that came years ago, found my garden and CSA field too tempting. Late at night they have jumped that fence too, and the past month they have eaten two rows of strawberries, the tomatillo plants, and have left the pepper plants leafless – empty green sticks pointing to the sky. Luckily it is at the seasons end, and I can handle the losses. I covered the strawberry plants for the winter (a few weeks early) to protect what is left of them. Over the winter and before next spring, I will need to figure out a way to keep the deer out, as I am afraid they will leave me with nothing left to sell. I am not sure if a higher fence will do. I rather doubt it, as they can jump almost anything, even from the standing position. They can go straight up and fly forward seemingly without hesitation or any extra effort.
All in all, and even though they are beginning to cause me some trouble (this morning they were eating the last of the leaves from my apple trees!), it’s good to see them around again. It’s not a good feeling when any kind of wildlife disappears.