The Deer Trap ?

The Deer Trap ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

The Deer Trap

The closest Orcas Island comes to having big game is black-tailed deer. These small deer are a constant source of worry and wonder, as they appear on porches and in the middle of dark roads with similar frequency. Every resident has deer stories and ours came relatively early and with a bit of terror, for the deer at least.

The Yurt was built by a couple in the eighties who enjoyed gardening. To be a successful gardener on Orcas Island, one must have a deer remediation strategy and this property was no different. When we acquired the property, the remnants of a six-foot high fence ringed the Yurt in a patchwork of rusty, ramshackle sections that created a figure 8 shape, with the Yurt’s entrance in the middle.

With gardening low on our priority list, we inspected the fence to see if it could be repaired enough to be a dog run. Instead of trying to secure the entire perimeter, we focused on one side of the eight. Using bits of spare wire and rope, we repaired a few sections in an attempt to corral the dogs into enough space to frolic. While it wasn’t completely secure, we hoped the fence was fortified enough to keep the deer out, the dogs in, and prevent them from chasing the deer into the forest. It was a fence in name only.

we hoped the fence

Deer are wanderers; they forage constantly and go where their noses lead them. Based on the tracks and narrow trails we’ve seen, they are likely to wander through areas they know well, searching for a bit of lush greenery.

Prior to our arrival at the Yurt, deer had free access to the yard, via the poorly maintained fence. They could calmly wander in and access both sides of the yard. It was, perhaps, a simple puzzle to solve, especially on a sunny afternoon with no humans around.

When we repaired the fence, we neglected to tell the deer. The puzzle suddenly became much more difficult to solve and we saw, first hand, the real problem this caused.

A few days after partially fixing the fence, we drove into town for dinner and returned home after dark. As we approached the front door, our dogs inside the house barked and we heard a strange and frightening sound coming from the darkness of the yard. It was the pounding of hooves on rock and soil, followed by the sound of a crash and then the screech of chain link fencing under stress. After a few seconds, more pounding, more crashing. It was scary, as I didn’t know what sort of beast I might find in the darkness. But soon, I caught a glimpse of a black-tailed deer and became worried more than frightened.

We quickly figured out the problem. A deer had wandered into the yard at night and our arrival spooked it and it panicked. Not knowing what else to do, it was trying to escape by running through the fence and springing back like a professional wrestler. The puzzle was nearly impossible to solve while panicking in the dark.

I knew there was an open gate in the fence on the opposite side of the yard and tried to herd the deer in that direction with my phone’s flashlight blaring. Thankfully it got the message and eventually made its way out of the fence without more crashing and screeching. My relief quickly turned to despair. That poor terrified deer.

In thinking through what happened, we quickly discovered the error in our ways. We had unknowingly set a deer trap. We allowed it to casually wander into a familiar area, closed a few of the exits and then spooked it. We couldn’t have planned it better, or worse.

I suppose the lesson we learned is true for all fences. There is no such thing as a partially repaired fence. It’s either a fence…or it isn’t. With this lesson in mind, we set upon creating an honest-to-goodness fence that would reliably keep deer out and dogs in. And reliability was paramount. What if a deer got in and then became trapped for weeks while we were in Seattle? Unacceptable.

A quick visit to the hardware store got us on the right track. Their deer remediation section was stocked with multiple versions of six and eight-foot fencing. Some were more like netting or fabric. Some were wire. Some had bottom sections with smaller holes to keep out rabbits and other vermin. We bought a 75-foot roll of six-foot wire, wire snips, and cable ties.

Within a day, the perimeter of the southern side of the figure 8 was secured. But the fence still had a gaping hole where the two yards connected in the middle. The choke point between the garage and deck was about eight feet wide and filling this hole with a gate became our first real construction project. The fence could not be a fence without it.

 first real construction project

We went back to the hardware store, this time for chain link fence supplies, L brackets, screws, and wood. After a bit of planning, we used a handsaw to cut the wood and set up a functioning gate, clad in deer fencing. The southern yard was finally, truly secured.

With the new fence and gate, our deer trapping days were officially over. Now, the closest deer come to terror at the yurt is being stared down by two furry muppets inside the safety of a fully fortified fence.

two furry muppets