Just down the hill from the LNC is a weedy meadow that’s become an arena for sparring bucks. Yesterday in the rain, my approach interrupted this old guy’s shoving match with a younger deer. You can still see a clump of his opponent’s hair on the tip of one antler prong. As fascinating as it is to watch the show, I can’t help but think it’s bizarre that urban forests have become (mostly) unchecked deer population increase zones. We really wake up to this fact during the rut, when bucks and does rush across busy streets and venture fearlessly into nearby neighborhoods.
Urban and suburban white-tailed deer have a better chance of reaching old age than their country cousins. I called the buck in the opening pic an “old guy” because he has visual characteristics that suggest full maturity, if not actual old age. Whitetail bucks reach maturity in five to six years; if that old he has likely attained his maximum body size. This is particularly evident during the rut, when mature bucks put on much more bulk in the neck and shoulders. Though this buck has a very large rack, antlers are not a good predictor of age.
This smaller buck was the old guy’s sparring partner, while one or two others watched from the edge of the meadow. No does were in sight, but the pungent scent of deer musk lingered in the wet air.
I’m sure I missed the best challenge of the day, which likely came from the large buck (pic above) who was standing at the top of the meadow. None of these deer were particularly fazed by my presence; though bucks tend to stay out of sight most of the year, hormones had made them oblivious. And city deer lead a charmed life – it would be unusual to find such a concentration of large bucks if there was any level of hunting pressure.
So many well-matched bucks mean plenty of competitive behavior. The wet meadow is already churned up by sparring matches, the blackberries flattened. Buck rubs are everywhere (as if young trees are not scarce already in this forest!).
How many deer is too many for one little urban forest and surrounding neighborhoods? I’ve heard no calls for culling in our urban area, despite increasing DVC’s (deer vehicle collisions). There’s no doubt our little forest fragment is massively impacted, and it’s easy to see: young trees and shrubs rubbed or eaten, soils churned by a multitude of deer trails, herbaceous plants heavily browsed, leading to a monoculture of non-edible White Snakeroot
A number of cities, including nearby Cincinnati, have taken the initiative with urban deer management. As described in this 2017 article, “Cincinnati to continue use of bow hunters to cull park deer…” https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2017/05/31/350593001/350593001/
Unsurprisingly there has been opposition: “Cincinnati Urban Deer Advocates” is a group supporting the restoration of the city’s No Public Hunting ordinances and nonlethal approaches to stabilizing of the deer population in area parks. It’s the “Bambi syndrome” again – if coyotes were this obviously numerous, the calls for eradication would be loud and clear.
Even hunters can have their qualms about the idea of killing urban deer. As one of my deer-hunting forest friends said “I couldn’t shoot them when they just stand there, there’d be no sport in it. It would feel like murder.”