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- Lakeway's White-Tail Deer Herd
Lakeway's White-Tail Deer Herd
Welcome to Deer Country!
White-tail deer are the smallest members of the North American deer family. Adults have reddish brown coats in the summer, fading to a duller gray-brown in winter. The bucks are easily distinguished in summer and fall by their sets of antlers. Antlers will fall off in the winter and then regrow. Mature does can bear twins or even triplets, in spring. Fawns are born covered in spots. “White-tail” refers to the underside of their tails, which stand up and wave like flags when they sense danger. (Many sources call them “white-tailed” deer, but around here we shorten that a bit.)
Four to five million white-tail deer live in Texas. Sometimes solitary, most travel in small sets, combining into larger groups seasonally. Ruminants, they mostly eat plants and shrubs, as well as fruits and acorns (click here for Deer Resistant Landscaping). In Lakeway, their predators are coyotes, dangerous metal fencing (click here for Safe Fencing), and vehicles (click here for Driving in Deer Country).
A special thank you to Lakeway residents for many of the beautiful photos found on the wildlife portion of the website. Unless otherwise credited, the deer photos are by resident/WAC member Nina Davis.
You may be fortunate and spot a melanistic white-tail. These deer are much darker in color (dark brown to jet black), due to a concentration of melanin pigment. Unlike sickly albino deer, melanistic deer are perfectly healthy. A doe may have twin fawns—
one melanistic and one not. Their spots are hard to see, but glint silver in the sunlight. Experts say the Texas Hill Country has more melanistic deer than anywhere else in the world. In Lakeway, melanistic deer are common around the Yaupon Golf Course, but it is rare to see them in other parts of town.
Photo by resident C. Petersen
Lakeway is fortunate to host all of our amazing deer. Recent annual surveys have determined that the herd is stable in number and appears to be healthy and well-fed. Happily, there is no need for intervention, and we can focus on peaceful coexistence.
The White-Tails have a few distinguished guests living among them: axis deer and blackbuck antelope.
Axis deer are larger than our white-tails, but the most obvious difference is that axis keep their spots as adults. Axis were brought to Texas in the 1930s from India, where they are known as Chitals. A few axis bucks escaped from a nearby exotic animal ranch, and two remain in Lakeway. If you are lucky enough to see one, they may be alone or with a small cluster of our white-tail does.
Photo by resident S. Cary
Once in a great while you may rub your eyes, when you see an exotic creature in the deer herd. Blackbuck antelope have dark backs and light bellies, but it is their distinctive tall and twisty horns that set them apart from deer. They were imported from India and Pakistan in the 1930s. A few escaped from a nearby exotic animal ranch, so you may see one or two in Lakeway. They have been welcomed into the white-tail herd.
Fall Rutting Season
Peak Rutting (mating) season is from October to January in Central Texas. The bucks scrape the velvet off of their antlers and can become aggressive, butting each other for dominance and chasing does. During rut, deer may be more prone to dart out in traffic; be particularly aware when driving, especially at dawn and dusk. When walking, never get between a buck and a group of does. Keep your dogs closely leashed.
Spring Fawn Season
The City of Lakeway sees an abundance of newborn fawns each year in early spring and into summer. White-tail does often have twins and occasionally even triplets. A mother doe will clean a newborn fawn and let it nurse. Then she may move the fawn to a safe area and leave it there while she goes to feed. The fawn is too weak and wobbly to travel far with its mother, so it will instinctively stay where the doe has placed it until she comes back. This protects the fawn, which has no scent to attract predators. A fawn left to rest is PARKED. The spot chosen may seem very exposed to us; however, fawns are safer from predators out in the open than they would be if hidden in a wooded area. So, fawns are often parked in Lakeway yards and on golf courses.
Parked Fawns – Leave them be! You may find a newborn fawn in your yard or nearly stumble over one on a walk. Please, do NOT assume it was abandoned or needs help. Removing a fawn that is not in danger or clearly in distress causes harm to the fawn, the mother and the entire herd. Parked fawns tend to curl up like cats and nap. They will remain motionless for hours, which keeps them safe. They will stay where put unless harassed.
Enjoy this informative and adorable 2 minute video from Texas Parks and Wildlife on parked newborn fawns.
Rarely, a fawn needs help. Signs a fawn is in trouble:
- If the fawn is wandering around or bleating, it may need help.
- If the fawn’s ears are curled at the tips, its mouth is dry, or its bottom is dirty, Mama Doe hasn’t been around in a long time to nurse or clean the baby, and the fawn needs help.
- If the fawn is being attacked by fire ants, it needs help.
- If the fawn has been injured, it needs help.
Local resources to contact IF a fawn needs help:
Leanne Dupay, permitted wildlife rehabilitator with Texas Parks & Wildlife 512-694-1811. (She lives in The Hills.)
Shandra Dettbarn, permitted wildlife rehabilitator with Texas Parks & Wildlife 512-660-3568.
City of Austin Animal Services (512-974-2000) serves Lakeway. An Animal Protection Officer may come out and take the fawn to Austin Wildlife Rescue for care (see below).
Austin Wildlife Rescue 512-472-9453 https://www.austinwildliferescue.org/ They are an intake center only and do not pick up animals. The location is at 5401 E. MLK Jr. Blvd., Austin, TX 78721. Hours are Monday - Sunday 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
All Things Wild is located just north of Georgetown 512-897-0806 http://allthingswildrehab.org/ Their “Found a Fawn or Deer?” page has specific info. http://allthingswildrehab.org/deer/ Their “Contact” page has a lot of helpful tips. http://allthingswildrehab.org/contact-us/
Adult Deer Needing Help
Stuck in a fence
If you find a deer stuck between metal fence pickets (or worse, impaled on top of metal spikes or open pickets) call Lakeway police ASAP at 512-261-2600. They get a lot of deer/fence calls and know how to handle the situation.
Deer stuck between pickets will be older fawns or younger does. The officer will cover the deer’s head to calm it and then push it backward. If the deer has not suffered internal injuries, even severe external scarring usually heals quickly.
Deer impaled on top of metal fences can sometimes be removed alive, but this is often a fatal situation. (Click here for fence information). If necessary, the officer will shoot/euthanize the deer.
There is a Fencing ordinance now requiring new fencing to have a continuous flat top, for safety of wildlife and also people.
If you find an injured deer or have one hanging out in your yard, the key point is whether or not it is mobile. If so, not much can be done since it will run away from people trying to help. If it is NOT mobile, the next issue is location.
- If the deer is in or near a road, call Lakeway police immediately as this is a traffic hazard. The best number is the dispatch line 512-261-2899.
- If the deer is NOT a traffic hazard, check with these groups for advice:
All Things Wild animal rehab 512-897-0806
Austin Wildlife Rescue 512-472-9453
Here is a full list from Texas Parks and Wildlife of licensed rehabbers (deer, small mammals, birds, etc.), current as of November 2021.
Carcass Pick Up
When the worst happens, contact Lakeway’s Public Works Department for dead animal removal at 512-608-9000.
Deer Resistant Landscaping
Deer snacking on ornamental landscaping is a common complaint. Whether moving to Lakeway or redesigning your yard, please consider using deer resistant plants. Area gardeners say our deer are less interested in native plants, including Texas Sage, Mountain Laurel, and Lantana Flowers like zinnias, pansies and periwinkles/vincas are usually safe, as well. Remember that no plant is 100% deer proof. Here are some resources for deer resistant plants:
Tips for protecting vulnerable plants:
- Spray Repellant: Non-toxic but stinky sprays are available from garden centers. Those smelling strongly of sulphur (rotten eggs) seem to work best for deterring deer. The Humane Society Guide linked on this site recommends this brand specifically: Deer Away Big Game Repellent. Any product must be applied every couple weeks and after rain.
- Water: A “scarecrow” type of device uses a motion detector and a hose to squirt water at any animal coming into an area. Check home improvement and garden stores and websites.
- Garden Fencing: Temporary wire mesh will protect new plantings, which deer and other animals find especially delectable. Place plants vulnerable to deer in your back yard behind sturdy and tall fencing.
Driving in Deer Country
DRIVE AT OR BELOW THE SPEED LIMIT. This protects everyone, humans and wildlife.
- Equip your vehicle with deer whistles. These simple and inexpensive devices adhere to the front of a car or truck, one on each side; during travel, incoming air makes a whistling sound that alerts wildlife. They are available at auto stores and on Amazon. (In the interests of full disclosure, the Humane Society Guide linked here states deer whistles are not proven to work. But, many Lakeway residents swear by them.)
- Be particularly aware of deer in the mornings and evenings, when deer tend to be on the move.
- At night, use high-beams to see further ahead. Watch for the shining eyes of deer.
- Watch the sides of the road, especially where there are shrubs or tall grass.
- If you see one deer in or near the road, know that more deer are in the area.
- Don’t veer if you see a deer. Drive straight, brake, and use the horn.
- Watch for erratic fawns straggling behind adults in spring and summer.
- Watch for amorous adult deer in the fall.
Dogs and Deer
Keeping your dog leashed is the best protection. By law in Lakeway, dogs must be leashed even when walking in your neighborhood and definitely when on the golf course. Bucks during rut and does with fawns to protect may become aggressive toward dogs. Generally, however, it is an uncontrolled dog chasing deer that causes problems; the whole group of animals can end up in the roadway, resulting in tragedy all around.
Feeding the Deer – PLEASE DON’T
We know—the deer are adorable. And, we love them too. But they aren’t pets. They are wild animals, and feeding the deer hurts them much more than it helps.
Feeding corn is the worst; like giving a toddler a plateful of candy, corn provides no nourishment. But, feeding deer anything is bad for them, as it makes them less wary of humans. It also encourages deer to congregate in the area. This increases the chance of vehicle collisions and friction with neighbors who may not like deer as much as you do. Negative interactions with people are the greatest danger to deer.
Feeding deer is also against the law in Lakeway. To keep residents and our precious deer safe, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting feeding. It is illegal to place wheat, pelleted livestock food, corn in any form, fruit, vegetables, hay or alfalfa, human food, scraps, any form of commercially sold wildlife feed, birdseed, or livestock feed, or, any other edible matter that deer will consume (not including live vegetation such as ornamental landscaping or flowers) on the ground, or within reach of deer. Any person who violates the provisions of this city ordinance commits a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no less than $1 and no more than $500.
By following this ordinance and NOT feeding our deer, you will help reduce the potential for negative interactions in residential areas and encourage the deer to adhere to their normal diet.
- In other parts of the country, deer ticks are a vector for Lyme Disease. Fortunately, that is not the case in most of Texas, including the Hill Country.
- Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease found in deer, causing changes in behavior and appearance. Texas Parks and Wildlife tests for this, and CWD has never been found in our area.
Our deer are frequently injured and even killed by the ornamental metal fences that are so popular in the Lakeway area and throughout the Hill Country. When deer leap over fences, they can be impaled on spikes or open pickets.
Here are the 2 types of DANGEROUS METAL FENCING:
Left: Open Picket Fencing Right: Spiked Fencing
Here are examples of two SAFE metal fence styles:
In 2019, Lakeway passed an ordinance banning new spiked and open picket fencing in the city. Instead, all fencing (metal and wooden) must have a continuous flat top. Wonderful! But, that still leave miles of dangerous fencing in existence here.
No one wants to wake up to the screams of a deer impaled on their fence. But, keep in mind that people, especially children, are also injured and killed on these fences. A Georgetown toddler suffocated in 2018 when his neck got lodged between open pickets. A Fort Worth teen died in 2019 when his neck was pierced by a fence spike. A San Antonio worker slipped off a roof in 2018 and was impaled through the torso when landing on the metal fence below; he survived but suffered serious permanent injury. So, if you have a dangerous fence, please understand it is a hazard to people as well as to wildlife.
Happily, there are several ways to make a dangerous metal fence safe, without the costly step of completely replacing it.
1. A matching metal rail can be welded along the backs of the pickets or spikes to create a flat top. This requires a professional. The cost can be reduced by getting a group of area homeowners to have their fences rehabbed by the same company. Here are before and after photos, making a dangerous open picket fence safe.
2. The spikes or pickets can be sawed off flush with the existing upper rail, creating a flat top. To see an example of a spiked fence made safe this way, drive by the new police station on Lohmans Crossing; the 4’ high decorative metal fence along the Lohman’s Spur sidewalk was erected with spikes just before the ban took effect, and a concerned citizen donated funds to pay a fence company to make it safe. Here are before and after photos of that project:
This can even be done as a DIY project by a handy homeowner, removing the protruding spikes or pickets with a Sawzall. Then, plug the holes at the top of each picket, to keep water out; rubber caps are available from Amazon at little cost.
Here is a short video showing how Lakeway resident, Hamil Cooper, removed the spikes from his fence, making it safe for people and wildlife.
3. Remove the fence panels and replace them with flat-topped panels. If the posts are in good shape, they can remain; this saves money, since digging post holes and cementing them in won’t have to be done.
4. Install coyote rollers on the top of the fence. These are aluminum cylinders that deter coyotes (and large dogs) from jumping a fence. These animals jump upward and then pull themselves over the top of a fence; the cylinders spin, so they cannot get traction. Deer jump differently, so the rollers would simply shield them from dangerous spikes and pickets. Humans are also protected by rollers. Go here for examples and info:
Here is a good resource on dangerous fencing and how to make it safe, with helpful photos: https://www.kadeskrusaders.org/way-to-modify-your-fence
Lakeway’s History with Deer
In 1999, City of Lakeway created the Deer Committee with the purpose of evaluating our deer herd. The result was heavy culling that continued annually for many years, despite no formal surveys ever being done to document results. Residents objected to the trapping as inhumane and to the killing as unnecessary, and it was all paid for with taxpayer funds.
The deer were last trapped and killed in early 2018. Then, the old Deer Committee became the Wildlife Advisory Committee, and its scope was broadened to cover all wildlife. As to deer, WAC was asked to investigate humane options and modern management technologies. At WAC’s suggestion, the city has commissioned Spotlight Surveys each fall. This accumulating data indicates our herd is stable in size (even without culling in recent years), as well as appearing healthy and well-nourished. Lakeway also monitors our herd via statistics on predation and deer/vehicle collisions.
Instead of spending money and effort on controversial culling, the city has turned its attention to strategies for co-existing with wildlife. Now, Lakeway has tasked the ever-evolving WAC to create educational resources to help the public cohabitate with our beloved wildlife. Deer and many other creatures are plentiful in the Hill Country, and Lakeway has no physical boundaries. It follows that we need to learn to co-exist with our wildlife.
Want More Information on Our Deer?
Here is a list of books available at Lake Travis Community Library:
2021 Lakeway White-tailed Deer Spotlight Survey
2020 Lakeway White-tailed Deer Spotlight Survey
2019 Lakeway White-tailed Deer Spotlight Survey
2019 Lakeway White-tailed Deer Density Map
Solving Problems with Deer, by the Humane Society of the United States, is an excellent overview of ways to live with urban deer. Its author, Urban Wildlife Biologist Laura Simon, spoke to WAC in 2019, and several specific suggestions on our site are taken from her talk and the guide itself. Keep in mind the guide was written as a national resource, so it is not specific to Texas. To access the guide, click on the Solving Problems with Deer link at the beginning of this paragraph, then scroll down to "Take Action" to download the toolkit.