In late fall, from approximately the end of October to early December, deer enter into their rut (breeding season) in British Columbia.
According to WildSafeBC, breeding season is triggered by shorter days and less sunlight. The rut for mule deer peaks slightly before that of the whitetail deer, but generally speaking, mid-November can be considered the rut for both types of deer.
“The start and end of the season is sort of variable, but where we are now in mid-November, we’re in the thick of it,” said Vanessa Isnardy, Provincial Coordinator for WildSafeBC. “The most important thing to remember when you see deer at this time of year is to give them lots of space, as much as possible.”
According to the WildSafeBC website, signs of rut include bucks exhibiting swollen necks, and they can be observed rubbing shrubs with their antlers, displaying dominance by strutting, circling and tail flicking. Mature bucks of similar size will engage in head-to-head fights and lock antlers. These displays and fights are used to assert dominance and secure breeding privileges.
Isnardy warns that injuries can occur during rut season, and more-so during fawning season, but the main reason for injuries between deer and humans is when dog owners are too close to the deer and they feel threatened.
“Dogs off leash, or dogs on leash for that matter, can cause the deer to feel threatened and trigger an attack,” said Isnardy. “So in that case you also want to make sure to keep your dog close and again, give deer lots of space.”
She says that if there are deer in your yard or close to your home during the rut, it’s important to try and dissuade them from becoming comfortable. Also, she says, don’t feed the deer.
“Using a motion sensor light or motion activated sprinkler can dissuade deer from your yard, but with winter on the way those aren’t always viable options,” she said. “In fall, mostly males, try to avoid them. Making sure you’re protected is more challenging when deer are habituated.
“Feeding deer is a really big issue. Do not feed the deer. People may think that [deer] are docile or non-aggressive animals, but that is not the case. Especially during rut and fawning season. Feeding deer makes them more habituated, we call it food conditioning, where deer think they are being rewarded for their behaviour and keep coming back. It results in more conflict between deer and humans, higher death rates for deer and a host of other issues.”
Bucks ingest very little food during the rut and as a result of this, the constant movement, displays and battles, they enter into the winter with a greater risk of winter mortality than females.
Another piece of advice from Isnardy is to be very aware of animals while driving at this time of year.
“Be aware when you’re driving, male deer will be focused on females so they don’t have a sense of traffic and roadways,” she explained. “It gets dark so early now, and animals are still wandering after dusk so it’s important to drive with caution and be really aware.”
WildSafeBC’s website explains that deer are wild animals and should never be approached especially when in rut or those with young. Laying their ears back and lowering their head can be signs of an impending attack.
“That signal for attack, lowering their head and putting their ears back, when that happens the best thing to do is ensure you have something between yourself and the deer. Wether it’s a tree or a vehicle. It’s also important to try and stay upright,” said Isnardy.
If you are concerned for your safety or have sighted deer in your neighbourhood that are no longer afraid of people or pets, report them to the conservation officer service at 1-877-952-7277. More information on deer and rut season can be found on the WildSafeBC website under the species information tab.