While deer will become accustomed to living near humans they still will try to stay out of sight when we are out and about in our yards. This means you will need to do a bit of detective work to determine if deer are, in fact, the culprits of your garden and landscaping woes. There are several signs that can alert you to the presence of deer in your yard:
Deer Evidence of Intrusion- Tracks
Deer can range in weight from 100 to 400 pounds and can leave a well defined footprint in soft and/or wet ground. Their hooves leave heart shaped markings such as the one seen below.
Deer Evidence of Intrusion-Vegetative Marks
Due to the physical structure of a deer's snout you may note that the leaves of your fruit trees appear torn rather than cut clean. Unlike you and I, all, but one species of deer lack upper incisors and, consequently, cannot chop food (leaves of your trees and garden vegetables) clean. They must pull at the plants causing the remaining leaf blades to have ragged edges.
Deer Evidence of Intrusion-Scat
Scat, or the excrement left by deer, can also help identify them as pests in your garden. The photos below should help you to identify deer scat in your yard.
Deer Evidence of Intrusion-Buck Rub
Part of the biology of the male deer is the annual shedding of a layer of fine, soft hair like material that covers their antlers. During the year this material contains veins that support the growth of the antlers. When deer begin to rut, enter into mating season, the blood stops flowing and the bucks rub the antlers against trees to remove the now dried covering. This shedding takes place in the late fall or early winter depending on location. The antler covering, called velvet, becomes a definitive irritation to the male deer and causes the bucks to scrape their antlers on the trunks of trees to obtain some relief. The image below shows the effects of this "Buck Rub" on an otherwise healthy Jack Pine tree in Southern Michigan. While the process may not be harmful to larger trees, it can be difficult for younger trees to recover and is a definite sign that deer are passing through your property.
Deer Evidence of Intrusion-Buck Scrapes
While you may only see these signs during mating season (October/November) buck scrapes are a very visible sign of deer activity in your yard. Scrapes are made, it is thought, by bucks advertising their virility to the territory's females. Scrapes are just that: ground that has been scraped clean by the hooves of mature male deer. They are most often found in front of trees and coincide with broken or damaged low hanging branches on the tree.
Deer Evidence of Intrusion-Deer Beds
When a 200 pound animal settles in for the night in one spot they leave a mark! If you have areas on your property or nearby properties that have long grasses and/or are protected on all sides by larger trees and shrubs, keep an eye out for depressions in the vegetation. If you see several together, you can bet deer are close by!