Protecting Trees from Deer Rubs


September is here and Ohio's WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus) population is gearing up for mating season.  Bucks are completing their antler growth, which occurs roughly from April through August, and are ready to start polishing them up in order to attract a mate, or several mates, as is the case with deer.  How do bucks polish their antlers?  As the antlers grow, they are covered with a layer of soft, vascularized tissue, commonly referred to as velvet.  Polishing requires the buck to rub the layer of velvet off in order to display their literal crowning glory, although sometimes the velvet will dry up and slough off without rubbing.  Rubbing stations are often the trunks of saplings or small trees that fit in and around the antlers perfectly.

No reports came in on this week's BYGL regarding damage to trees from deer rubs, but the time is right and the damage may start any day now.  One of the most important strategies to remember when combating wildlife damage is to be proactive.  Don't wait for the damage to occur; if a tree was damaged last year by rubbing, protect it now before it happens again.

The white-tail deer breeding season ranges from October through December and is preceded by velvet removal, which typically begins and continues through September.  Saplings and small trees can be protected from deer rubs by using tree guards, which are wrapped around the trunk of the tree, preventing access to the bark.  A tree guard should be 4 - 5' high with several inches of space between the tree and the guard.  There are many types of tree guards commercially available made of various materials.  BYGL writer Randy Zondag reported that tree guards made of hard plastic or chicken wire can sometimes cause just as much damage to the tree as a buck rubbing with no restrictions.  When a buck rubs on a tree protected by chicken wire, for example, the wire rubbing up against the tree can cut up the bark significantly, Randy reports.  A guard made of a softer plastic may work better to prevent damage.

Nursery growers often face a significant challenge when it comes to protecting their trees from deer damage.  A second strategy, equally important as being proactive, is remembering there is no silver bullet to combat wildlife damage of any kind, especially white-tailed deer damage.  This means that using multiple management options, sometimes in conjunction with one another, is the best strategy to take.  A combination of tree guards and repellents can be effective.  In areas sustaining moderate to severe deer damage, the best management option is lethally reducing the population.  Deer damage permits allow the removal of deer outside of the hunting season and are issued by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 1-800-WILDLIFE.

Rubbing is often most intense during and shortly after velvet removal, but can continue throughout the breeding season, as bucks will rub their glandular foreheads over rubs to leave a scent behind.  If tree guards are used, be sure to leave them up through the winter.