Deer thrive on the borders of farmlands, forests, small cutovers, and wetlands throughout Alabama. Their populations were once dangerously low because they were overhunted, especially during the Great Depression when food was scarce. The best efforts of wildlife management and conservation professionals over the years have brought the deer populations back in strong numbers.
In some places, the recovery of deer populations has worked so well that the animals exist in unnaturally large groups that become hotspots for disease and starvation. Large herds with too many reproductive females regularly overeat their habitat – leaving a trail of bare branches and exposed rock where there was once a carpet of green grass, herbs, and blooming shrubs. Deer forage on succulent green plants of the forests, tender herbs and flowers of suburban gardens, and the vegetables and grains in our agricultural fields.
Large predators once controlled deer populations, but today those predators no longer exist in the wild, so human hunters fill the ecological role once filled by wolves and other large carnivores. The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries of the State of Alabama, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources publish regulations regarding hunting seasons and bag limits annually. The limits and regulations are designed to manipulate deer population demographics to ensure the health of the herd and minimize unwanted contact with humans -- and their cars!
As we struggle to maintain a healthy population of deer in Alabama, there will continue to be times when there are just too many deer competing for too few edible resources. People that live on the edges of suburbia will feel the effects first as their fruit trees, gardens, and flower beds become prime foraging real estate. Before the tale-tale signs of torn vegetation, deer tracks, and piles of “sign” appear in your backyard, a few ounces of prevention may save you from a potentially costly cure.
Deer are not overly ambitious, and fairly lame efforts to exclude them will probably do the job if other food sources are available in their range. A mesh fence 48 inches in height will keep deer out of an area, particularly if the fence leans out slightly and the deer have not yet developed a habit of eating in that area. A single wire electric fence 16” above ground will be sufficient to protect your flowers, but an agricultural field will require more. Repellents can be effective in small areas over a short period of time; but it can be extremely costly and ineffective if you do not follow the directions down to the last detail. Scare devices may work in some cases, but scaring away deer can easily become a full-time job if other measures such as exclusion are not a part of your plan.