Attack of the Antlers

As urban deer populations swell, cities take action. By Alisa Opar

Last November, a burly male threatened a 17-year-old newspaper carrier in Helena, Montana and chased him underneath a car, where the teen stayed for 20 minutes until he was sure his antagonizer was gone.

The response to the bullying was swift. Within days officials captured and killed the intimidator—a six-point buck.

Swelling deer populations within city limits are a problem across the U.S. Backyards and city parks are an ideal habitat, at least from the perspective of the animal, said Gayle Joslin, a wildlife biologist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.

“People create landscaping with delicious things to eat, where there’s water and there are no predators, and the density of deer goes up,” she said.

When deer first began appearing in the city, residents enjoyed catching a glimpse of the graceful creatures. But now the novelty has worn off, and many see the animals as a nuisance.

“I have had as many as 22 deer in my back yard at one time. Six have been born here, and two have died due to being hit with cars,” wrote Russell on the city’s Deer Diary blog, where people share stories about their encounters with the animals.

Joslin is part of a nine-member task force the city of Helena created last fall to figure out what to do about the 400-plus deer living in the city. The group is considering a range of options, including shooting or trapping deer, and will give its recommendation in the spring. So far, city has killed only mule deer that threaten or injure pets and people—usually aggressive bucks in rut, or does protecting fawns.

Gardens and aggression aside, larger deer populations bring other concerns. Viruses pass easily between deer in close contact—one traveling through the urban herd right now causes large, facial growths that fall off on people’s property—and ringworm and tick-borne diseases can spread to humans.

Deer also attract predators. “The predators go where the food is,” said Joslin, pointing to recent reports of wolves nearby, and at least three confirmed mountain lion sightings.

The most effective way to deal with the cute pests isn’t the most popular.

“Where there’s an over-abundance of deer, if you want less deer, your only option is to kill them,” said Anthony DeNicola, president of White Buffalo Inc., an organization that works with cities to control urban wildlife populations.

In Princeton, New Jersey, for example, a plan to trap and kill deer to reduce their growing numbers caused a furor, and lawsuits.

The Helena task force is working with residents, and preparing a telephone survey to determine just how bothersome locals find the deer.

In the meantime, the task force is considering a range of solutions that cost $200 to $400 per deer. The current solution of culling aggressive animals won’t work in the long-term because the population keeps growing, said Joslin. Other options include hiring hunters to kill deer with shot guns outside city limits, using archers and sharp shooters in town, or trapping and tranquilizing deer and then killing them. Contraception isn’t currently available.

Though the city hasn’t figured out how to deal with the deer, residents have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to the animals. Many people have stopped planting tulips and other flowers that deer favor, and some have installed electric fences around gardens and trees.

And, as a quick look at the Deer Diary reveals, residents haven’t lost their sense of humor about the problem.

“In exercise class on Friday, we were doing kick-boxing-esque maneuvers and were instructed to imagine we were committing mayhem to ‘the person we hated most from the week.’ A regular named Valerie piped in, ‘You mean like the deer that ran into my car?’”


The photo used for this article is unjust and misleading. These clearly are farm raised deer used for supplying hunt clubs and the like. To show so many fenced in, deliberately reproduced deer alongside an article that mentions Anthony DiNicola as an authority on urban deer is poor journalism.

DiNicola, a supposed urban deer "expert" is really a glorified, highly paid hunter, who has taken a sacred Native American symbol of the white buffalo and made it one of death and malicious destruction.

What hunter would not love to have all expenses paid hunts all over North America-also PAID to legally shoot whatever numbers of deer he alone deemed were "too many" over baited sites from September through March of each year?

In order to gain my respect, any urban wildlife specialist should not have personal gain of an income of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in killing the very numbers he alone is hired to assess. Why is DiNicola/White Buffalo continually in the news all over the U.S? Because being a clever media person and a wickedly successful manipulator of urban wildlife "science" has made him the "expert" that cities call when there are too problematic deer.

Cities hire White Buffalo to assess how many deer to kill, and then the same company is hired to kill the deer! Isn't this like a real estate appraisor buying one's property immediately after putting a value on it? How utterly misleading and sad.

Beau Enriquez
Urban Wildlife Coalition
Chicago IL