Stag party in a suburban front yard

August 05, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

BIG MAN and Crazy Eddie were over again the other night, and it was party time in the front yard, when things got as ugly as ever.

See, Big Man and Crazy Eddie are the names my family has given to the two deer who've been ravaging our crab-apple tree for weeks.

That's because these are two of the biggest, toughest-looking deer you could ever see.

They're like, I don't know, biker deer or something.

The only thing missing are tattoos and little doo-rags around their antlers.

And a couple of Harleys parked at the curb.

I'm telling you, these deer are so tough that if you turn on the front light suddenly and fling open the door when they're chowing down on crab apples, they don't even run away.

Not only don't they run away, they don't even move.

Instead, they just stand there glaring at you.

They give you a look that says: Mister, there better be a damn good reason for you interrupting us. ...

Not until you get to within 15 or 20 feet of them do they start to move.

And even then they don't exactly tear off in a panic.

Instead, they sort of saunter off, giving you another look that says: OK, pal, you win this time. But we'll be back. You can count on that. ...

To find out what to do with these thug deer, I called the state Department of Natural Resources and was put in touch with George Timko, whose title is "urban deer biologist."

I told Timko I was actually calling about suburban deer -- deer with major attitude problems -- that showed no fear of humans and swaggered around my front yard like it was a 24-hour Bob's Big Boy for wildlife.

Timko said that pretty much described any deer you see in residential areas.

The bottom line, he said, is this: Your garden-variety deer ain't what he used to be.

"In suburban counties, deer, for generation after generation, have basically learned that people are nothing to fear," Timko said. "We're no longer predators to them."


I imagine that back when they hung out mainly in the woods, the deer were terrified every fall when they saw hundreds of pickup trucks pull up, disgorging a lot of beered-up guys wearing orange vests and funny-looking hats and carrying big guns.

But since most neighborhoods frown upon hunters sweeping through the streets and cul-de-sacs blowing away deer nibbling at bushes -- after all, an errant shot could take out a picture window or even, God forbid, grandpa in a hammock on the back deck -- these deer know nothing's going to happen to them.

So they're totally brazen.

(Then again, my next-door neighbor Joan says she's had it with deer tearing up her yard and wants to organize a neighborhood party where we all drink margaritas for a couple hours, then put on the orange vests and Elmer Fudd hats, grab our guns and go to town on wildlife.

(The only thing is, she told me this after a couple of glasses of wine. So who knows how strongly she felt about it the next day. I'm hoping we can still do the margaritas thing, though.)

Anyway, Timko says the deer population in residential neighborhoods probably won't be dipping anytime soon.

Even though we humans are taking over more and more of the deer's habitat, we're providing plenty of tasty flowers and plants for them to eat outside our homes.

"They're going to the cafeteria," is how Timko put it.

And, again, we're not filling them with hot lead as they go through our gardens with their little trays, either.

"Basically," said Timko, "the only thing killing deer in suburban areas are vehicle collisions."

Speaking of which, Big Man almost checked out the other night when I chased him from my yard and he ran out in the street, narrowly missing another neighbor whizzing by in her SUV.

(At first I thought it might have been Joan, with a pitcher of margaritas on the console, electing to start the thinning of the neighborhood deer population with a Mercury Mountaineer instead of with a rifle.)

As for what to do about Big Man and Crazy Eddie, Timko says most homeowners will initially try the least-expensive methods for warding off deer: putting out noxious-odor repellents, wrapping their prized flowers and shrubs in wire cages or erecting fences around their entire property.

At my house, we'll probably stick with what we're doing now: turning the light on suddenly and bursting out the front door and screaming: "Get out of here!"

Not that it really works.

It just gives us something to do.

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