One morning last fall I was awakened from a deep sleep with the feeling that someone or something was staring at me. I sat up in bed and saw a pair of eyes peering at me through our bedroom window. It was about 2 a.m. in the morning but with the illumination of a full moon I was relieved to see that the intruder was only a lone deer. I started to relax and settle back on my pillow when the thought hit me that this doe wasn’t just a passer-by, but a lookout. Maybe I’m giving deer more credit than they are due, but I had the feeling that this doe was purposely watching me while her comrades were pillaging our newly planted orchard. Leaping to my feet I ran to the upstairs window where I could count a dozen deer nibbling away at the fruit trees Nancy and I had planted earlier that spring. This was the second time our deer neighbors had come for a midnight snack and I wasn’t sure the fragile little orchard could take another pruning so early in its development. We already had a battle with gophers and grasshoppers throughout the summer months, but deer can do more damage in a much shorter time. The thought occurred to me that I should run out with guns ablazing, screaming and yelling in my long johns like a mad man. I quickly decided to wake up Lilly our trusty watch dog who was sound asleep at the foot of our bed and let her earn her keep. After opening her sleepy eyes and realizing it was still too early for breakfast, she valiantly charged out the back door barking her most ferocious bark and having the wonderful delight of seeing a dozen deer flee in terror.
Holding the deer and elk at bay here at Timber Butte is a constant battle. Rarely a week goes by that we don’t see them pass through our yard, which is one of the reasons we so enjoy living here. We daily have the privilege of seeing wildlife of all kinds. Besides the deer and elk we watch coyotes digging up mice in the hay field, bob cats, wild turkeys and even an occasional wolf. We came here not wanting to run off the wild life, but to live with it the best we could. Don’t get me wrong, Nancy and I have eaten venison and elk all of our married life, but I have always hunted in accordance with state regulations during the established seasons. Besides that, Nancy has always required my hunting ventures to be away from home.
The challenge still remains however to keep the deer out of the garden and orchard as well as the foxes, raccoons and coyotes out of the chicken coop. The primary answer I have found after years of living in the country boils down to fencing and repellents. Knowing that it was going to be a problem when we first moved up here, one of the very first things we did was to build a ten foot deer fence around our garden plot. We designed it to be long and narrow, about 40 by 100 feet, so that we could use a horse to cultivate in passes down and between the rows. Because ground squirrels are also a problem I buried chicken wire around the base of the fence and ran it up the larger hog wire about four feet. This doesn’t completely eliminate their stealth invasions, but does discourage them from being too bold.
A visiting pastor friend of ours told me about a deer repellent for the orchard that I had never heard of before. He was from Georgia in an area where deer are a major menace. He instructed us to cut bars of Irish Spring body soap into fourths and hang it like Christmas ornaments in the branches of our young trees. If you have ever smelled Irish Spring soap you would know that it is really strong smelling stuff. By the time we cut it up and hung it most of the damage had already been done. I desperately hoped the soap would work because most other solutions that I knew about were expensive and difficult when it came to protecting orchards of any size. In those I had previously planted I went to great effort to individually net or fence each tree until they reached some level of maturity. Once I had observed a neighbor who installed a propane powered device which ignited a periodic explosion that supposedly guaranteed the repelling of all wildlife. I can’t help but laugh a little as I remember how it only took a month or two before all the birds and deer learned to ignore its threat. I know there are other devices, but soap seemed like a cheap and easy solution if it worked. The remainder of the season we were deerfree. Early one morning I watched as a half dozen deer walked right through the small trees without taking a bite. I don’t know if this was a coincidence or if it really worked. The only problem we had with this new tactic was Lilly. We discovered that she loved Irish Spring as we found chunks of chewed soap in her bed. It may deter the deer, but unfortunately our dog rather likes it.
Keeping the critters away from the chickens is also fairly involved considering that coop fencing must not only hold off digging predators such as coyotes, or climbing critters like raccoons, but also flying meat eaters like hawks and owls. It’s a war zone out here, but a great privilege to live in the heart of a place that still hasn’t run off all the original inhabitants. Country living is a challenge as you always have to be on your toes to outsmart the critters out there. Caddyshack comes to mind when I think about the battle that sometimes ensues. It is a matter of living not just on the land but with it – and that means with all the inhabitants that were there before us.