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If you live out here, you are one of two kinds of people: You either feed the deer or you don’t. Motivations for either may be based on a number of things, but it is a duality that exists in the rural-river region, for sure. Many hunters, of course, plant food plots to draw healthy animals all year to a targeted area for harvest. Other hunters just go where the food already is and refrain from the legal practice of early season planting of desirable deer crops.
Lots of folks fall into the category of observers, not actually feeding the deer, but appreciating their presence in fields as they commute around our homes, browsing for natural nutrition. In a few pockets, however, we find the very docile deer that have become uncannily tamed by their exposure to humans on a regular basis. They convene to investigate what the bipeds have brought them for tribute, as it were—leftover salads, corn, carrots, etc. One such pocket would certainly be my place of employment, the Delaware Valley Job Corps. The deer who live in and around the sanctuary property walk through the grounds with little regard for the bunches of humans who share their real estate. On some occasions, one can walk within feet of a mild-mannered doe just chewing some grass.
In this particular instance, these deer have become so tame due to the regular feedings they receive from staff and students. There is a deck directly in front of the main academic building—the clock tower you can see from town—where people will congregate at the railing to toss down corn, bread and other tidbits for the deer to pick through. What the deer happen to miss, the chipmunks are sure to swipe in speedy haste.
Young fawns and does wander up and eat, quite unconcerned with the audience. There are a few who are so bold as to ask for more. Walking up to the railing and sniffing toward the hands of the people with the goods. Students have been known to sneak bread from the cafeteria to appease these woodland beggars. But, on occasion, I have seen a student nervously check his surroundings before pulling out a bag of Doritos to share through the rails. Not the most nutritious thing for a deer, but a deep loyalty it seems to buy. So much so that I swear you could spot the deer licking their lips as they watch their benefactors walk away.
Do I recommend feeding deer Doritos? No. Please do not feed deer Doritos. Or cheese curls or Twizzlers or Swedish Fish and so on and so on. Please feel free to re-read the last few things written. Deer are like children, they like sweet and tasty things, but it isn’t good for them, especially mixed with their normal diet. On top of that, it isn’t always such a good idea to invite a self-reliant creature to begin depending on a welfare system. Come winter, you may feel the need to stop providing snacks out of the difficulty of braving the cold, yet your socialite cervids will not have gotten the memo. Some may starve, failing to browse for food themselves; others may seek your replacement, as scavengers do in populated areas, and they could be at risk for negative human interactions. Maybe it’s only spilling the trash over to get some sweets, but it could result in crossing a lane of traffic and causing an accident. The results of feeding deer socially like this are varied and, in cases like the herd around the Job Corps Center, seem to be non-problematic, but their herd size grows more rapidly due to this draw and safety. As a result, the brush in the surrounding forest is well browsed and their natural food source, while not depleted, is still low and under heavy competition.
Long story short, if you feed the deer, consider the repercussions on these animals and their ecosystem. And for goodness sakes, the way out here is not fueled by Doritos. Plant some corn or soy.