Deer Information We Should Know

Deer are among the most familiar animals of Washington, and in many places they are the largest wildlife that people encounter. Their aesthetic beauty is appreciated and admired, although their fondness for garden and landscape plants tries some peoples patience.

Rocky Mountain mule deer ( Odocoileus hemionus hemionus )  or mule deer

Inhabit areas east of the Cascades in Washington, preferring open forests and sagebrush meadows.

During summer, mule deer are tan to light brown; during winter, they are a salt-and-pepper gray. They have large, dark-edged ears, from whence they derive their name. The 7 to 8 inch tail of a mule deer is white, except for a black tip. Mule deer are the largest deer in Washington. Adult buck (males) weigh up to 250 pounds; adult doe (females) weigh 120 to 170 pounds.

Columbian black-tailed deer ( Odocoileus hemionus columbianus )

Are our most common deer subspecies. They occur from the crest of the Cascades west to the ocean, preferring brushy, logged lands and coniferous forests.

Many of the physical characteristics of black-tailed deer are similar to those of the larger mule deer. The tail is broader and the backside of the tail is covered with dark brown hair that grades to black near the tip. When alarmed or fleeing from danger, the tail may be raised, displaying the broad, white underside. Adult black-tailed deer bucks weigh 140 to 200 pounds and adult does weigh 90 to 130 pounds.

White-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus idahoensis )

Occur in eastern Washington on farmlands, in low-elevation stream and river corridors, and near populated areas.

White-tailed deer are usually reddish tan in summer and brownish gray in winter. They derive their name from their broad, 10 to 11 inch long tail. When alarmed, white-tailed deer raise their flaglike tail, displaying the white underside. White-tailed bucks weigh 150 to 200 pounds and adult does tip the scales at 110 to 140 pounds.

Columbian white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus leucurus )

Are found in limited areas along the lower Columbia River. Once common in other areas, this species was federally listed as an Endangered species in Washington and Oregon in 1967.

Hybrids of mule deer/black-tailed deer and mule deer/white-tailed subspecies are known to occur. Mule deer/black-tailed deer hybrids are common where their ranges overlap. Mule deer/white-tailed deer hybrids are not common, but are occasionally seen where both species occur in close proximity.

Preventing Conflicts

In most places deer are valued as watchable wildlife or as game animals. However, where hunting is limited or no longer permitted and natural predators are few, deer populations can increase to a point where human/deer conflicts become a concern.

Problems associated with high deer populations include damage to crops, ornamental plants, restoration and reforestation projects, and deer/vehicle collisions.

Problem areas are often where new development has appeared in traditional deer habitat. Those who live on the edges of new developments, or adjacent to undeveloped areas, may experience higher deer damage than others whose homes are within developments or otherwise buffered by urbanization. However, deer readily adapt to human activity and are seen in unlikely places at times.

If deer damage is occurring on commercial property, a wildlife agent from your local wildlife department can assist you in evaluating damage-control options. Your local wildlife office may also have cost-share or other programs available to help you manage deer on your property.

Deer Fences

When deer browsing is moderate to severe, or a landowner isn’t willing to tolerate even a limited amount of damage, fencing to exclude deer is the only option. However, traditional deer fences are not always practical because of appearance, zoning restrictions, cost, or rugged terrain. In such cases, another type of barrier described below may be appropriate.

Before installing a deer fence, ask these questions:

  • Must my entire property be protected or only certain parts, or certain plants?
  • Is this need temporary, such as to protect young trees for a few years?
  • Are there visual constraints, including aesthetics, or your neighbor’s or a passerby’s view?
  • Are there any community or local government regulations or restrictions?
  • Is building a fence time- and cost-effective, or should other methods be considered, even though they are not as effective?

Before you build

If you decide to build or have a fence built, construct it properly. A poorly constructed deer fence is dangerous to the deer, and will not protect your valuable plants. If a deer fence exists nearby, ask the property owner about its effectiveness, its construction, and who built it. To locate a fence builder, look under “Fence Contractors” in your phone directory. Request references and follow up on them before hiring any contractor.

If you build a deer fence yourself, carefully measure the area to insure the efficient use of fence rolls. (You don’t want to end up having to cut a small length of fence from a new and potentially expensive roll). In addition, make sure you know where your property line is—existing fences may not be on your property. Never fence across an easement without notifying the necessary authority.


Source: Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife | Learn more about deer