Feed them and they will come

The deer we encounter each morning as my son and I head through northern Durham County to his river camp on the Eno are fearless. Literally. At least when it comes to humans and cars.

Each morning, as we wind our way through the surprisingly full, green countryside that leads to the river, we come upon a herd of deer at the very same spot, every single morning. Across the little paved road sit two tidy homes accompanied by large, handsome gardens that are already bountiful, certainly for early July. Surrounding these gardens are tall fences, poles and nets, patched together with obvious care using chicken wire and other materials aimed at keeping the deer from making regular meals of the veggies inside.

Yesterday we counted six deer, including does, bucks and a nice little fawn still splashed with its spring-birth spots of white that signal it as a yearling. Today it was 11.

These guys barely raise an eyebrow as we cruise by. We’ve even had to honk the horn to clear a path. This morning a big, plump doe, clearly well fed, even began approaching our vehicle when we stopped to say good morning. (Where were these deer when I hunted such animals on a more regular basis?)

Here’s the kicker: It turns out the folks in these houses, the same people who tend the impressive gardens, are feeding the deer with massive quantities of corn, apples and other goodies. They’ve been doing it for years, meaning generations of deer have grown accustomed to the ritual. The humans do this not to be kind, although surely the deer appreciate the food. Instead, the daily feedings are a piece with their attempts to keep the deer from their veggies.

After trying to fend off the deer for years, met with constant futility, one of the gardeners came up with an alternate approach. Instead of working endlessly to keep the deer out, why not simply make them so full, so satisfied with the food in their bellies, that they won’t care about the gardens. Apparently it works. At least better than the fencing alone. So in the end, these deer are part wildlife, part pets and part recovering garden marauders.

One problem: The more food the humans provide, of course, the more breakfast guests they receive. I’m told the owners of these two homes alone spend upwards of $75 a month on deer grub. Now that we’d been provided the back story, my boy and I figured this morning’s especially friendly doe simply missed the omelet station today and was still up for a snack.

For these clever humans, $75 a month must be worth the luxury of being able to pick their supper from their own yards. If one happens to be a vegetarian, I suppose one could live this way forever. And if you happen to be a carnivore, fret not. Don’t forget: There are always the deer.


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