My Strategy for Dealing with Deer on the Farm

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Post Written by Tim Huntley

Where we live, deer are as common as dogs, so keeping them out of the vegetables is an issue that every local farmer or gardener must address.  After doing a lot of research and talking to other farmers, I decided to tackle the problem from several different angles.  I erected a seven foot tall, multi-strand electric fence around the perimeter of my one acre garden, and each spring I smeared peanut butter on the fence to entice the deer to receive a firm shock (training them to stay away).  I also bought some “coyote urine” to sprinkle along the fence line.  Lastly, my chicken coop was within the fence, and I had heard that deer don’t like the smell of manure.

Generally these strategies weren’t very effective – that is, they only worked for a few weeks until the deer’s hunger overpowered the risk of an electric shock and the various odd smells.  And when one deer figured out how to overcome an obstacle, they all did.  I continued to layer on additional deterrents, but only to the amusement of the deer.

For a while, my misguided vegetarian sentimentalities got in the way of my sensibilities. Thankfully, a few years ago I found my way to Weston A. Price and eventually Paleo, and my new strategy with the deer became “if you can’t beat’em, eat’em.”   Venison is fantastic, 100% organic, free range (and lots of other good marketing words).

With the decision to hunt deer on my property, I had to choose an appropriate weapon.  Given the relatively small area I have for hunting (10 acres), the only reasonable and safe choice I could make would be a bow, so I purchased a Parker Wildfire compound bow.  Arguably a long bow is more elegant, but it is possible to pull and hold a much stronger draw weight using a compound bow which benefits from multiple cams and pulleys.

Savannah River Point

As it turns out, I wouldn’t be the first hunter on my land.  The artifacts pictured above, found in freshly tilled soil, are up to 8000 years old.

Note:  The idea of taking the life of a deer wasn’t something I approached casually, even if they were eating my sweet potato vines.  Thinking about the relationship of the people who had lived on the land before me, and their need to hunt to survive made me carefully consider my own motivations.  And recently, like many of you, I was profoundly moved by watching the real, raw emotion exhibited during the conclusion to the elk hunt on Robb’s I-Caveman show.

Like most things requiring athletic skill, it is a good idea to get some training and coaching from a professional, and that’s exactly what I did.  My archery goal was to become proficient at shots from 40 yards and closer such that I could consistently hit within a two inch circle.  After practicing for about 4 weeks, I had gained enough confidence to go hunting, especially since I expected my typical shot to be around 25 yards.

When bow hunting, it is generally best to station yourself in an elevated position at least 10-15 feet above the ground.  The reason is that deer do not have predators that live in trees and rarely will they turn their gaze to the sky unless they hear a noise.  Also, when hunting from an elevated position, if you miss your target, the distance the arrow will continue to travel is very limited.

In my situation, the loft of my barn overlooks a cleared area where the deer travel on the way to my garden.  With the cover that the barn provides, I am usually able to read a book while I wait for my prey. (I’m sure I lost some serious hunters with that statement.)  I have never been interested in taking a “trophy” buck as that will do absolutely nothing to alter the long term deer population in my area.  A younger doe, one that over her lifetime will give birth to numerous offspring, is a much better target and a tastier one as well.

In spite of all of my practice and preparation, when I have a deer in my sites adrenalin kicks into high gear and making a perfect shot is tough.  For me, the key is to not compromise and take a shot from too far away or when the deer isn’t at the right angle.  I would be lying if I said I have never missed or if every shot that hit a deer was exactly as I visualized.  But I have been successful on most occasions and have put lots of meat in our freezer while helping to keep the deer population in check.

When you succeed in hitting a deer, pay close attention to the exact path the animal takes when running away.  From my experience, a wounded deer will run from 10 to 30 seconds before stopping.  You will need to wait at least 30 minutes before attempting to track the animal from the blood trail as you may spook the deer and have it run even further away.  If you have hit the animal in a key location (heart or lungs), the animal will have expired by the time you locate it.

At this point you will need to field dress the animal, which involves removing the internal organs within a few hours.  How you do this and how you later process a deer and turn it into useful cuts of meat is beyond the scope of this post.  I would suggest reading So You Got a Deer and A Guide to Butchering Deer.

And for what it’s worth, a freshly killed, minimally damaged, road kill deer often contains a substantial amount of edible meat.

A bounty of venison is closer than you think.

Photo credit:  MyAthleticLife   K. W. Sanders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Josef Woodman
    October 24, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Excellent perspective and advice. In our neck of the woods, deer become roadkill in such great numbers that the logic to take the meat in a humane way is unassailable (even my my uber-vegan community).

    While I have not yet mastered the skills of bow-hunting, I do allow a couple of skilled bowmen hunt our land, and they in turn share their meat. Everybody wins, including the collective deer population long term.

  2. Ann Wendel
    October 24, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Tim,
    Thanks for the article. We used to live on 30 acres and had hunters come out in season to manage the deer population. They gave us venison in return (nothing beats Bambique in the slow cooker!) From your article I also learned why deer stands are used – I never thought about deer not looking up! I have treated several patients in the trauma setting who fell from deer stands, and I couldn’t figure out why they were up so high instead of on the ground!

    • Tim Huntley
      October 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

      Ann,

      Another reason for me to sit in my barn loft instead of a tree stand!

      …Tim

  3. Joe
    October 24, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Great post. Funny, I just caught the first hour of I Caveman yesterday and had thoughts of bowhunting dancing in my head during the night. Next year!

  4. chuck
    October 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Tim:

    You are posting everywhere. Good to see it. Great article. I believe hunting and fishing for one’s own protein and fat is something that isn’t talked about enough in the paleo community. As you said, you cannot get a more paleo form of food than wild animals.

  5. OogieM
    October 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

    How do you manage the issue of game licenses? In my state each adult is allowed a single license to take a single deer and only within very short defined seasons. They all correspond to fall when the gardens are not producing anyway so hunting is not going to be any help in preventing the deer from eating the garden. We use 8 ft tall wire fences to keep deer out of the gardens and orchards.

    • Tim Huntley
      October 24, 2011 at 11:19 am

      In my state, they don’t require a hunting license when you hunt on your own land; however I purchase one anyway in case I hunt elsewhere (plus it is not very expensive). Since deer are such a huge problem in North Carolina, our limit is something like 6 per season.

      • Dianna on Maui
        October 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

        Thanks for purchasing a license even if you don’t think you might need one. In most states, the license fees go to land/game conservation efforts, so it’s a great thing!

  6. OogieM
    October 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

    PS

    Here locally mountain lions hunt deer from trees so deer are very well aware of what is above them and very wary. Also locally licenses for deer are almost exclusively for an antlered or buck deer. Not possible to get doe licenses. So the deer we hunt are usually 2 pt or 3 pt subdominant bucks.

  7. Sabine
    October 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    A non- (or perhaps, not yet-) hunter question: If the deer has not died by the time you get to it, how do you finish it off? Do you find the up close part harder or easier than shooting from a distance? Vis a vis the moose hunt on Rob’s show, I wondered if killing the deer hands on is a ‘connected’ experience? Sad but satisfying? A tough task you just do and get it over with? Something else entirely?
    Very interesting post.

    • Tim Huntley
      October 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      So far, I have never approached a deer I wounded that had not already expired. However, I know that when I kill/butcher a chicken (very close up and personal), it definitely isn’t easy.

  8. Theragingwalrus
    October 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    You dislike the industrial farming but let a deer bleed to death after shooting it in its chest? Do you have any idea how much pain that causes? If you care about animal suffering on the farms that companies like McDonalds use, you should care about your deer suffering too, and the right thing to do then is obviously to use a scoped rifle to put a bullet in its brain. Hypocrites like you are the reason vegetarianism still has a good rep.

    • chuck
      October 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm

      unfortunately, hunting with rifles is illegal in a lot of states. even if legal, hgunting on a small property with a rifle can be dangerous. plus a head shot is typically not recommended because it is very hard to make. a skilled bowsman can be just as deadly as someone hunting with a slug shotgun. deer are gonna die by many means. roadkill, natural predators, starvation, disease, and even old age. death can be painful. most species don’t get the luxury of a hospice.

      most hunters hunt for a good reason and states manage numbers for a good reason. deer don’t have as many natural predators as they used to. they go largely uneffected by natural means of management. that is where hunters come in and are allowed to take a certain # every year so deer don’t over populate. ethical hunters respect the animals and honor them by not letting their meat go to waste.

    • Jason Peacock
      October 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      I’ll start hunting with a scoped rifle when the coyotes and cougars do :)

      Seriously, this is simply the circle of life and there’s no sadistic animal torture going on, as opposed to the CAFOs you mention where animals are factory-farmed and live miserable, unhealthy lives.

      I have a lot of respect for those who hunt their own meat, as they are living closer to nature than most of us and have the best understanding of where their meat comes from and what it represents.

      Now those trophy hunters, they should be hunted themselves…

    • Trav
      March 11, 2012 at 3:45 am

      Deer have very small brains making them quite difficult to hit. Also, taking into consideration that the head is the part of a grazing deer most likely to present a moving target, trying for a head shot is far more likely to cause a non-lethal injury. A long life of blindness, deafness or having it’s nose or jaw blown off seems to me to be far more painful and cruel than a few minutes of pain before death for a mortally wounded animal.

  9. Jessica
    October 25, 2011 at 1:11 am

    I have eaten roadkilled pheasant before. The law (in the UK at least) with roadkill is: you can only eat it if your car didn’t kill it. You have to be lucky with your timing, but you would be surprised how much still-warm dead animals you find on back roads in Scotland.

  10. Shannon Franklin
    October 25, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I am amazed by how much I enjoy reading this blog, and it’s exciting to see the whole “hunter-gatherer” concept be taken literally.

    As a young girl, I begged my father to take me hunting, so I could learn this fine craft. He used to proudly bring home a deer every Winter, and I really enjoyed the meat.

    Alas, my father passed away before I could learn, but I yearn to one day have a farm with chickens and a cow or 2, which I intend to kill and eat.

    It’s nice to be part of such a broad movement of people getting back to our ancestral roots, especially people with a good moral compass who consider seriously the repercussions of their actions.

    It’s nice to learn that roadkill might be edible too! Thanks.

  11. Lynn
    October 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

    my favorite animal is steak…goes good with the lettuce

  12. Lynn
    October 25, 2011 at 11:52 am

    My sister 48 year old 110 pound 5’2″ sister just learned to hunt last year., She practiced with a bow and arrow all summer. So fat she has hunted with three arrows. She has shot three deer. All of them dropped immediately. I am amazed. She said that if she was not confident with her marksmanship than she would not hunt. She still waits in her tree stand for half an hour to be sure the deer are really dead. They can be vicious. I watched one on u tube kill a black lab who was not even barking at the deer and was in his own front yard. It was a new mother deer who had just given birth in a suburb and and had gotten back from expelling the afterbirth..

    • Lynn
      October 25, 2011 at 11:53 am

      so far she has hunted with three arrows,,,that should say

  13. Erik
    October 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I love this post and wish we could get more like it. It’s great to hear someone hunting their food like our ancestors did.

    • Branko
      October 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

      I have no problem with this statement- as long as we reduce our population to that of our ancestors as well.

      • Trav
        March 11, 2012 at 3:32 am

        Ahhh… Another overpopulation nut. Let me guess, you just so happen to belong to the chosen few and are not one of the “too many”?

  14. Pistolette
    December 18, 2011 at 11:49 am

    “if you can’t beat’em, eat’em”. Love it. This was a fun and informative read. Thanks. I live in the city, but my father hunts deer and I have a freezer full of venison. I’m currently looking for different recipes for it because I’m starting my third attempt at the “30 day challenge” in January :)

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