My Strategy for Dealing with Deer on the Farm
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.
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.