“City deer” are a subgroup of America’s favorite ungulates that are subject to both affection and disgust. Some people feel that an evening walk reveals a private national park with wide-eyed deer and lumbering bucks grazing on the liverwort just a few feet away. But to others, these animals are nothing more than oversized rabbits that eat gardening and defecate on sidewalks.
Deer, particularly white-tailed deer, have created a stronghold in suburban and urban interfaces across the country. Here in Missoula, Montana, deer stop and look both ways before crossing the street more often than pedestrians. Constant foraging and a lack of predators have created the perfect setting for an explosion in these tulip-eating populations. Because of this good living, a higher percentage of deer are able to reach maturity than their wilder cousins in the hills. This means big antlers in the concrete desert.
The following tips may sound familiar to most shed hunters, but you don’t need to lace up your boots for this expedition. Tennis shoes will work fine.
Do you remember a month ago when Marilyn, your neighbor two houses down, complained that the deer ate all the birdseed and scared the chickadees? Deer want to find food as easily as possible, and humans love to deliver calories in neat containers.
Hanging feeders can hit a deer’s antlers as it rises and falls as it balances on its hind legs to eat. While you can make recon by talking to your neighbors and listening to your gardening and birding troubles, deer are large animals and will make trails through well-kept lawns (also another food source) or snow. Look for the sign as you would in the woods. As long as people refill their feeders, the deer will come back.
These are also areas where animals congregate and I have seen males chase females, fawns and other males away from a full feeder well after oestrus. Any contact with a rear end could pop an antler.
I don’t condone wildlife feeding, just reckon these habituated deer will eat all the millet your neighbors leave for the songbirds. Compost piles, landscaping perennials, pet and livestock feed, and many other common garden features can attract deer which may leave some bones behind.
A constant shed spot for most antler hunters is fence crossings where deer jump or crawl back and forth. While the urban landscape doesn’t have the wide-open grasslands or sprawling fields of the Midwest, it does have a ton of fences. Deer moving from yard to yard often encounter 4 or 5 foot chain link barriers. These don’t deter healthy whitetails, but when the animals land, that force can shake the antlers enough to knock them off. Walk through alleys or green spaces like parks and soccer fields bordered by fences.
Bedding Areas/Border Cover
The mess of nature that a good bedding cover creates is hard to find in well-manicured yards where New Balance-clad dads try to keep the lawn clear, the bushes trimmed and the trees trimmed. Due to limited entanglements, bedding areas are generally located in edge habitats that are filled with brambles, invasive species, and some volunteers from the adjacent garden. These areas are usually found along walking trails, canals or streams, small parks, or wetlands.
There is a drainage pond that is dry eight months of the year a few blocks from my house. Cattails provide one of the thickest habitats that exist. She routinely hides her fawns there in the summer. In the winter, the males sleep among the reeds to protect themselves from the cold.
When you see that gnarled four-pronged shed leaning against the garage, don’t run past the fescue to grab it. Always ask permission. Suburban homeowners may enjoy someone finding an antler instead of a rancher being bombarded with access questions. And who wouldn’t love the neighborhood title of “The Shed Hunter”?