Monday, September 3, 2012

Bambi Can Eat My Drawers

Given, Marisa Tomei's mini tome on deer hunting from the movie "My Cousin Vinny" is hilarious, if only I could find the clip online.   She's so darn cute.  She is also a talented actor.  I don't agree with the script though.  At all.   There's been a few deer around here I would not have minded giving a "Pow" to between the eyes.

It's not about the meat.  I'm not a big fan of venison.  It's about the vegetables.  And the flowers.  And the bushes and little trees.  Those big friggin innocent "doe" eyes Ms. Tomei so eloquently refers to aren't full of oceans of puppy love, soft meadows and daffodils; they're full of assault, battery, home invasion, larceny and a host of other nefarious crimes.

Those friggin innocent doe eyes sneer as they eat the prize roses you've just spent weeks cultivating.
(I say weeks because if you live in a deer infested area any flowering rose will not last past sunset unless it is fenced or netted off.)  But let's just say you have a fenced yard and accidentally leave your gate open; A deer can decimate in seconds what it has taken you months and even years to cultivate and bloom.

They're kind of like a napalm bomb when they land upon a beautiful and flowering plant, shrub or tree.  Picture this; "You've just received a large, beautiful so-called deer resistant flowering hibiscus hybrid with over forty-one thousand blooms.  I mean, you could hide behind this thing if the cops were chasing you.  For instance.

And so you leave it out overnight, and Bambi and her derelict teen age son leave a skeleton shred of a stump of a thing behind.   It was as if an Armageddon like snow ball from hell descended and enveloped that beautiful, blooming Daughter to Mother birthday present in a holocaustic inferno.  Damn.  Holy Jesus.  Good God Almighty.  Shoot Howdy.   

They were like a swarm of ten thousand locusts descending.  The two of them.  Like Bonnie and Clyde on a hopped-up steroid and whiskey rampage.  Well, sort of.  You know, like if Bonnie was Clyde's mother and they were really hungry.  And vegetarian.   And having a very weird intimate relationship.  But then we're just going to total crazyville like Hitchcock did in Psycho.  Bananas in the shower will never be the same. 

OK, so what do I do?  We moved to the country.  There's wide open space all around us.  There's a big parcel on top and two (same size as us) couple acre parcels on either side.  Then there's the road.  It's a two lane paved country road, with a speed limit of 35 to 45 MPH.  Some folks zip as high as 50.  It can be a barn burner.  Directly across the street and at a couple of those o'clock things you use when you're referring to strategic locations are probably the same size as us parcels too.  Maybe.

I'm not giving up that much information.  There's stalkers out there.  Farm boy stalkers.  Kids of the corn. That sort of thing.  I gotta watch out for them.  And Zombies too.  The list goes on and on.  Ya, you know, I just checked my brain again. I probably got about ten thousand things I need watch out for.  Including the clowns and monkeys.  Cause when they come I gotta regroup. 

 There's a few neighbors over there across the street, and one of the kitty-corner-kinda-country-curvy-sorta straight line road ahead parcels is fenced to the road. I think.  That made no sense. 

Plus there's a donkey over there somewhere.  He brays now and then, which we find enchantingly amusing.   Somebody else has a few goats over yonder as well.  We hear them bleat now and again.  Our Rooster crows.  What a jolly little funny farm country sort of neighborhood we have.

So what's the point of all this jabber?  Deer need to get from here to there, or they apparently need to get somewhere at the very least.  Apparently there are too many obstacles, noodles and chatter across the street that has made them (the deer) establish a major thoroughfare parallel to the road and running across the front forty feet or so of all the properties on our side of it.  I'm OK with that.  It needs to be.

My overall landscaping and fencing design allows for that egress to continue as it should.  I just don't want them coming up the hill, attracted by the bouquet of some scent brought about by an aroma wafting upon the soft moonlit breeze and devouring everything I have lovingly tended like an army of ants on a day old dropped peach in the woods.  Or a hoard of Wal-Mart shoppers on that special shopping day.  If the plants were TVs for instance.  And we lived in Houston.  But I'm getting off track. 

Besides the established territorial trail across the front of the property, when we first moved here there was also a thoroughfare slicing right up the middle.  A big game boulevard.  Through the living room.  They'd camp out on the lawn.  Them and their buddies.  Then they'd come in the house and raid the fridge.  I addressed that scenario toot sweet.

First of all, the property came with plethora of extraneous fencing here and there, back and forth, hither and yon, running willy-nilly across the terrain.  It was all five foot high and originally designed to keep in goats.  There is one completely fenced in area in the top corner which I have retained for potential future use.  But after that you'd have to consult "Chicken Fantasia Land" to find out my theory of how the property was originally fenced.

The good part is that once it was "unhinged" from the T-Posts I probably had a couple hundred feet of fencing in good condition.  I also had a shoot-house-howdy bunch of T-Posts.  I ran the fencing all along the top of the property, meeting up with a very think batch of Manzanita.  Since the fence was only five feet high, I knew I would have to increase the height.  (Deer can easily jump six to seven feet and more, depending on their size.)   I scoured the internet for some sort of "T-Post Height Extender", but I found no such animal.  Or extender.

I devised my own three foot extender with one inch PVC and screws that didn't work worth a darn (even though some still remain).  I just couldn't get them secure enough to handle the barb wire stringing for the long haul.  

As I contemplated another solution, the pile of Manzanita poles I had set aside from previous clearing efforts began to do the hula in front of  me.  It was the weirdest thing.  And then they all got up and did this little boogie woogie.  A sort of hula boogie woogie, which I still can't figure out.  Anyway, about then I went Aha!

I attached Manzanita poles ranging in height from eight to twelve feet to the existing T-Posts and then strung the barb wire over, under, around and through..  We humans can barely tell it's there, but the deer can definitely see it.  It has elevated the existing fence by three to four feet, depending on the coil, so that the overall fence height is now between eight and ten feet tall.

Wrangling that barb wire was another story.  My son had recycled a bunch of coils in varying lengths from a friend's ranch, and it was all in a big pile like so many baked potatoes grazing in a herd.  Or rutabaga pies singing in a choir.  So many metaphorical choices, especially in this library.

OK, any fishing folks out there?  You know like when you're Tarpon fishing in the Bermuda Triangle and the line gets wrangled and tangled around your rod and reel, and then head and girlfriends ankles, then it spews out across the deck of the boat, over the side, gets caught up in the motor and the thing catches on fire so you gotta jump overboard and end up swimming to an island where all these people act like they are in a 1960's Sitcom.  And then you lose your new cashmere socks..

So, imagine that same whole experience only you're dealing with barbwire and you end up near some ranch in the Sierras.  Singing songs in a bar cause you're a showgirl.  No, wait a minute.  Wrong ranch.

When big, thick wire has been coiled up for a while, say a century or two, and it is uncoiled, it has this propensity to explode like an ever expanding semi-lethal web of unwieldy and surprising proportions.  And so on and so forth.  I think there were about twenty separate strands ranging from twenty to sixty feet in length.  That fun day shredded a flannel shirt as well as my favorite SF Giant T.  Just sliced right through the flannel to everything underneath.  What was I thinking?  I still have the Giants shirt.  It was my favorite.  There's so much skin showing through now that it looks like one of them chain mesh shirts a really cool redneck would wear.  Now I just need me a braided cord, tribal beach, bottle top pendant necklace.  For when I'm trying to impress the squirrels. 

The barbwire was much easier to handle once in separate strands, and all that wire has since been deployed across the top and sides of the property, effectively cutting off that major thoroughfare.  The deer have now been diverted to either side of us, which said land still remains in it's totally wild condition.  It doesn't seem the neighbors share our enthusiasm for horticulture.  Some folks just buy acreage so they can pee outside. 

Since that game trail was cut-off I would say the deer traffic has dropped by seventy percent.  There have been numerous breaches in the  "Braveheart" section(s) of the overall project though.  The "Braveheart" sections are where I have bolstered the already incredibly thick living Manzanita with dead stuff garnered from clearing our land. 

There is also barbwire strung along and through all this in the above picture.  It's all about six to ten feet high and thick.  The deer laughed.  They wagged their fannies at me as they sashayed through.

I have since added netting along the lower five feet.  At the present moment this seems to be holding.  I mean, it would be like jumping breast first onto a bunch of Manzanita Bungee sticks.

So for now we essentially have a horseshoe around the top of our property that has the deer effectively fenced out.  I still need to do the Manzanita pole elevation thing for a couple hundred feet along one side.  Then, once some downed trees are cleared, I have the materials to run about a hundred feet of fencing across the front to the drive.

On the other side I'm going to use the sloping lay of the land to my advantage, and will only have to use five foot fencing there.  With the steepness of the bank, it will be like twelve feet for entry.  On the other hand, if a deer gets in somehow after we're secure it will be an easy five foot jump for exit.  And believe me, Rover will be aggressively chasing Bambi so that the sneer in her eyes turns to fear.  Dang them deer.

The last step will be a solar powered automatic gate, which of course will be the subject of a future post.  We're a ways away yet on that.  It would be one thing if we had the money to just pay the man, but we don't, for the most part, so here I am doing it all.  Alone.  On a hill.  With a foolish grin.

But trust me, there is no freaking way I can be sitting perfectly still.  No way.  I figure I won't have a spare ten seconds for another decade.  It's some sort of metric thing I think.    

All this wrap around fencing will encompass about two of our two and a half acres.  The other half acre runs along the road and incorporates their existing native thoroughfare.  It is also split almost in two by our driveway, and eventually I have plans for both sides.

There is a bit of urgency on one side because I have relegated this area for an orchard.  (I plan on individually wrapping each tree with a small round fence while it is young.)  But first I need to down about fifteen scrub oak and pines.  I'm not sure if I can get that done by planting season early next year.  It's on the priority list, along with about fifteen other big things.  On the other side of the driveway, once cleared, I want to start a few Christmas trees.  There's room for about four hundred, but I'm gonna start with about ten.

But the priority is to get it cleaned up, slowly but surely.  It looks so much cleaner, plus it helps minimize wild fire danger.  I did get some daffodils down on either side of the drive last fall, and they bloomed well this last spring.  I will be adding more bulbs this fall.  Daffodils definitely appear to be on the do not eat list of deer.  They are prolific everywhere around Nevada County in early spring.

Once the perimeter is secure, we plan on getting a dog.  He'll have a nice secure territory to patrol.  In the meantime, what about all the rest of the hyperbole?   Put a search on deer repellents and you'll get about a zillion hits, which fortunately only about four hundred of 'em will make any sense.  The rest will be in a foreign language.  There's Liquid Fence,  there's Deer Out,  and there's Havhart Natural Repellents, just to name three. 

I have tried a couple different liquid commercial brands in the past.  The deer ate the shrubs and fabric the repellant was on first.  Then they finished off the tomatoes.  Had the roses for dessert.

Most of the liquid repellants out there contain some form of predator urine; like cougar, kangaroo or cobra.  Or maybe clown.  Normal human urine unfortunately does not seem to deter deer.  It deters coyotes, but it doesn't deter deer.  Dang. 

I know folks that have tried the motion activated sprinklers idea.  I have tried Nite Guard .  (Niteguard does state you have to move the unit around often to be successful with deer.  I am using Niteguard for other predators, and it is working well.)

I've hung bars of Irish Spring soap here and there.  Every once in a while you're wandering though the thick and you think you catch a whiff of a  Leprechaun.  So then you spend the next six hours looking for the little rascal cause who doesn't need three wishes or a pot of gold? And then there goes the day.  Maybe I should take that soap down...
The thing is, most all of these things will probably work for a while.  Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks.  Maybe a month or two.  But once the deer figure out no physical harm will come to them they cruise right on in.  Brazen as hell.  Once the scout is in, they're all in.  That scout has usually been a doe with one or two little freckled fawns around here the last two years.  Just like Ma Barker and her thieving gang. 

They also tend to get a bit braver as the summer rolls along, when the only moist green stuff is in our yard.  That's when they'll start to climb your deck stairs for your Geraniums.  During Winter, Spring and Autumn, even early summer they're not quite as invasive.  I mean, a prize rose is target 365 days a year.  But something that is supposedly deer resistant, like a hybrid hibiscus very well might bite the bullet in July, which my wife's did.   

The only things I know for sure that work are tall fencing and/or an aggressive dog.  I lived on some acreage in another life where we had a German Shepherd roaming freely.  Even though there was unfenced acreage for miles all around we had no deer problem.  He effectively patrolled a good three to five acre radius, even keeping coyotes at bay.

In a very odd sort of kind of coincidental type of cosmic thing, just as I was nearing completion of this essay,  "A Tail of Two Deer" happened upon me.  It is a story that will show you how important it is where you decide to live.  If you were a deer that is.  And I would have been remiss not to include this aspect of rural living.

My wife's folks live in the Almaden Valley, at the very south end of San Jose in the Silicon Valley.  It is a lovely area of upper middle class homes that in many areas abuts with ranch and wild lands, prime habitat for deer.

As a matter fact, on another one of those o'clock things across the street from their home is such habitat.  As a matter of fact, their front yard has been invaded many times, as have most homes in the neighborhood by those doe-eyed harbingers of herbal death.

Anyway, the other day Dad was in his front yard pulling some weed and watched as an automobile drove down the street. As the auto rolled at the speed limit, a deer from the hill approached the street.  The auto slowed, the deer hesitated.  The auto resumed, the deer bolted in front.  The auto tapped the deer, which hit the pavement.

The noise brought out the neighborhood.  The neighbors were in an uproar over the deer.  (The driver was OK.)  They wondered what to do.  They were about to hold the driver accountable for speeding and hitting the deer until Dad stepped in as a witness saying the driver did everything he could to not hit the deer.  They were about to call (on a Sunday) animal rescue for the poor little flea ridden parasite when it got up, looked around and fled back to it's habitat.  Don't know how much damage was done to the vehicle, but I do know this; He probably wasn't going more than 10-15 MPH, and I have tapped a deer at about 25 MPH.  My deer ran off and I ended up with some fur around my license plate.  That was about it.

My son (in my car) has hit a deer at about 45-50 MPH, resulting in some body damage and a broken left head light.   We now all have Deer Alerts installed on our cars.  They're not that expensive (under ten bucks) and at this point seem to be working.  We have noticed deer on the side of the road, but none have crossed in front of us since they have been installed.

Basically the deer alert is a little plastic whistle cone thing you install behind the grill of your car.  When you travel at 35MPH and higher it emits a sonic sound that keeps deer and other animals out of your path.  Along the same line as the high frequency dog whistles.  Or Steve Miller.  Or Boz Scaggs.  Maybe Niel Young howling on Like a Hurricane.

And then there was this deer on the road in front of our house yesterday.  I was down on the lower forty, working on brushing the multitude of trees our tree guy dropped last spring.  I actually got them all brushed, and will now be bucking and splitting about six cords of wood over the next couple months.  During a little break from the chain saw action, I heard some leaf rustling above and also across the driveway.

I'm pretty surprised at how quickly I have adapted to different noises around here.  It's pretty quiet around the neighborhood for the most part, and you can hear and pick up many sounds.  I have picked up the deer in the bush sound here, which is different than what squirrels sound like.  Or clowns.  Clowns in the forest are a dead giveaway with those big shoes.  And squirrels.  They're always chattering, like Chip and Dale.  Deer are deliberate, and move slowly, unless they're being chased.  By a clown for instance.

So I dismiss the deer above.  By the sound, I know he's up on the neighbor's forty.  I turn my attention to the one across the drive, and as I do I also hear an approaching vehicle.  By the way, I have absolutely no visual on this, it's a total audible for the moment!   So there's a rustle, then a quick tire screech and then a very loud Thwump!  I sat up alert, and as I was getting ready to mosey on down (although I had a pretty good idea of what had just transpired) I heard the vehicle engage.  Now mind you, I did not hear a door open at all.  Within ten seconds a mini van appeared with a somewhat portly elderly man behind the wheel.  The left headlight was gone and the entire front end of his van was toast.  He never even got out of the car.

I resumed working.  When my wife and I went over to some friends for dinner about six hours later we passed the deer, legs up on the side of the road.  Hopefully the county will be out to pick up the carcass on Tuesday, which is day after tomorrow.  Since it's a holiday weekend, we may have an opportunity to have some buzzards circling. 
It's pretty obvious I didn't care about the deer.  My only intention of going down there was to see if the driver was OK.  Obviously the driver didn't care, he didn't even get out of his car.  It's a big problem here.  Deer in the headlights that is.

If you hit a deer under 25 MPH, probably everybody (deer, you, passengers, car) is going to be OK.  If you're lucky, as a hunter/driver, you can always hope you bruised it's spleen as it wanders off.  As the speed increases, so does damage and danger.  The driver was probably doing 45 MPH yesterday, lethal for deer and van.

I was side-swiped by a buck one time when I was going about 60 MPH down the highway.  It just rambled down an embankment and ran right into the driver's side mirror.  Never saw it coming.  A couple grand in damages that time.  The deer did a Watusi rendition in the highway for a little while and then wandered off  the highway, presumably to die.  That was a wallop of a hit. 

There are mountain lions around.  Every once in a while you hear of a sighting.  But they really stay away from humans for the most part.  We have nothing to offer them, except for lambs and baby goats.  Them and coyotes are the only natural predators to deer around here.  Either the deer population is waaay up or these two natural predator's taste buds have grown fond of squab.  Or both.  I dunno.

The moral of "A Tail of Two Deer" is that deer in the Almaden Valley are much more appreciated by humans (for some reason) than deer in Nevada County.  So if you're gonna be one of those larcenous highway robbers, then maybe you should live in the Almaden Valley.  And if you insist in remaining here in Nevada County, know that soon this little plot of ground in your whole scheme of things is slowing becoming off limits to you and all of your ilk.  Enjoy the trespassing while you can, but soon the Geraniums on the front deck steps will be but a long lost generational memory.  And they will be happy and free to flourish unabated, as shall all flora and fauna here on our little isolated island in the hills.

There's a plethora of things you can try, but honestly, fencing them out is the only way, at least for me.