DOW Cautions Against Close Encounters with Deer

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Wild animals with fangs and claws aren’t the only critters people need to respect when they live, work or recreate in wildlife habitat.

In the last month, two Coloradans have been hospitalized after being gored by mule deer bucks. In each case, the panicked bucks had been confronted by pet dogs, triggering a “fight or flight” response that turned the typically docile herbivores into adrenaline-stoked adversaries.

And in late November and December, when deer are in the rut—or the mating season—testosterone makes bucks especially unpredictable.

“Dogs will trigger a maximum fight or flight response because they fit the deer’s profile of common predators such as coyotes or wolves,” said Dave Freddy, a veteran deer and elk researcher with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW).

“Once deer reach that state, with their hackles raised and their glands swollen, there’s a risk they’re going to try to stomp and kill whatever they perceive as a threat,” Freddy added.

Early last month, a 73-year-old Colorado Springs man suffered serious puncture wounds to his knee when he attempted to pull a buck with a single antler branch away from his pet dog. He was treated at a nearby emergency room for the wounds. Fortunately, no bones or arteries were punctured.

In late November, a Montrose-area woman suffered even more serious injuries when she attempted to separate her dogs from a buck. The deer turned on the woman, driving its dagger-like antler points into the woman’s back and arm. She was rushed to an area hospital where she remained for several days.

“Bucks can weigh more than 200 pounds. They have a lot of power, and when they have antlers on top of their head they’ve got weapons,” said Bill DeVergie, the DOW’s area wildlife manager in Montrose. “This woman was very fortunate she was not even more seriously injured.

“And dogs have a big impact,” DeVergie emphasized. “When they see dogs, deer instinctively thinks ‘coyotes and wolves’ and they’ll do anything they can to protect themselves.”

Illegal feeding can also be a factor, said Janet George, the DOW’s senior terrestrial biologist in northeastern Colorado.

“People who feed deer end up attracting them to their homes,” she said. “In the fall during the rut, the bucks usually become oblivious to everything except other deer, but may be aggressive if approached by people.”

Freddy and other biologists who have trapped and tagged deer during research studies have learned first hand about their strength, antlers and hooves.

“People don’t realize their strength and their hooves are lethal weapons,” Freddy said. “You can’t outrun them and you can’t out-quick them. “Treat these animals with respect, especially this time of year when bucks are driven by hormones.”

The two recent injuries aren’t the first in the state. Other incidents include:

--A University of Denver professor engaged in what he called “the fight of his life” near Hotchkiss in December of 1994. A four-point buck charged the 185-pound hiker and delivered 10 puncture wounds as they wrestled. After the man climbed into a tree, nearby residents came to his rescue and killed the buck as it waited at the base of the tree.

--In July of 2002, a Salida woman was injured when her cocker spaniel began chasing fawns. The doe immediately began to stomp on the dog prompting the woman to hit the doe with a stick. The doe responded by head-butting the woman, knocking her to the ground and lashing at the woman with its front hooves.

--An 81-year-old Grand Junction woman escaped injury when her elderly poodle was stomped by a deer in the woman’s backyard. The dog had to be euthanized.

Colorado has not recorded a fatality, but deer have killed people in other states, as can be evidenced in the following tragedies:

A 14-year-old Utah boy was kicked to death by a deer in December of 1991 as he tried to free it from a fence.

In September of 2000, a Kansas woman was gored to death by a buck deer she had hand raised. Possessing live wildlife is a violation of Colorado state law.

The DOW wildlife managers emphasized basic precautions people need to take to avoid confrontations with deer, including:

--Preventing dogs from running at large.

--Ensuring dogs don’t chase deer or other wildlife. Owners can be held liable if their pets injure wildlife. If necessary, wildlife officers have the legal authority to destroy dogs chasing wildlife.

--Obeying the Colorado Wildlife Commission regulation prohibiting the feeding of deer and other big game.

--Do not approach deer. Anyone who encounters deer that seem nervous should slowly back away.

--In areas where deer are common, particularly during the breeding season, pet owners should consider hiking without dogs.