Entanglements, antler junk a danger for city's rutting bucks

It’s rutting season for Greater Victoria’s black-tailed deer population, and that means aggressive behaviour for bucks — and some unusual entanglements in their antlers.

Hammocks, volleyball nets, Christmas lights, baler twine, garden netting and pieces of wood and fabric have been spotted stuck in antlers as male deer roam the urban landscape, spoiling for a fight.

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Bucks are aggressively trashing bushes, marking trees and strutting through neighbourhoods in displays of mating dominance this time of year, say experts. In the process, some end up with antler junk that poses a danger to themselves and other fighting bucks during the mating season that runs through to December.

On Thursday night in the Mount Tolmie area, conservation officers were called when a buck entangled with netting and a metre-long pole locked up with another male. Both animals ended up stuck and officers had to use a pole dart to tranquilize both, cut away the netting and relocate them short distances away.

Another particularly nasty battle over the weekend saw fighting bucks lock antlers in a Fairfield yard and tangle themselves in a driftwood sculpture and netting. Officers were unable to separate the pair and had to tranquilize both bucks for relocation.

Calls have been pouring into the B.C. Conservation Officer Service and Saanich Pound over the last two weeks about bucks with items lodged in their racks.

Officers will only intervene when the obstructions pose an immediate risk to the animal, as was the case with this week’s situations, which required tranquilization, said Rick Dekelver of the Conservation Officer Service. He said if the animal is unable to feed or is immobilized, officers will act.

Derek Rees, animal control officer for Saanich Pound, a division of the Saanich Police Department, said in many cases, the bucks are able to rid themselves of the material by raking bushes or trees. Black-tail deer also shed their antlers over the winter.

“Generally, we look for bucks to get stuck before action is to take place,” said Rees.

Rees found himself in a tricky situation 10 days ago in a forested area off Arbutus Road, when a young, two-point buck weighing about 110 pounds that had been spotted with baler twine in its antlers was discovered stuck in trees.

He approached the animal with caution, seeing a buffer of branches and brush that would allow him to get close enough to cut the buck free. As he was cutting away the twine, the deer “did a 180” around the brush pile, put its antlers down and charged.

Rees was able to cut the twine off and sidestep the charging buck, its antler nicking his arm and leaving a bruise.

Wildlife officers all wear ballistic vests. “They are wild animals, and they act on instinct, doing anything they can to escape a threat,” said Rees.

He’s hopeful a deer trailing a string of Christmas lights through Saanich will free itself before it gets stuck. “We do keep an eye out on these animals,” Rees said.

Dekelver said tranquilizing is only used in controlled settings, usually when animals are stuck and unable to move after a dart is delivered. Officers have to consider the stress of the deer, its location and the five to 10 minutes it takes for the drug to take full effect.

“What happens in that five to 10 minutes is our concern,” he said. “They are stressed. If they have time to flee, a bunch of unknowns can happen,” including running into a road and causing an accident.

Officers were able to tranquilize, unlock and relocate the two bucks in the Mount Tolmie area on Thursday night in about a half hour. The buck with the netting and pole had also been a concern two days prior, when it was fighting with another male in the same area. They were also stuck, but were able to break free.

Officers said people should give deer a wide berth at this time of year and keep their pets on a tight leash.

“[Bucks] are slightly more aggressive this time of year,” said Dekelver. “They are doing this for status. As part of that, they get a tunnel vision and are fixated on partners or another male. They’re getting into traffic and can be less aware of their surroundings, focused on fighting or mating.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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