Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers Becca de Vergie and Lucas Clancy work to remove a cage for a tomato plant from the antlers of a mule deer buck in Durango.
DURANGO, Colo. – Antlered wildlife across Colorado are on the move during the fall months as they migrate to winter range and seek mating opportunities. During this time of year, deer, elk and moose are increasingly prone to becoming entangled in objects found around homes.
Earlier this month, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in Durango had to tranquilize a mule deer to safely remove a cage for a tomato plant from its antlers. The cage would swing in front of the buck’s mouth to prevent it from eating.
The same week, a wildlife officer in Woodland Park had to tranquilize a buck to get a plastic ring removed from around its hoof.
Every year, wildlife officers across Colorado respond to incidents like these when deer, elk and moose have become entangled in hammocks, volleyball nets, holiday decorations and more.
That’s why CPW asks the public to assess their homes and yards for potential tangle hazards to wildlife. People can help by putting away summer recreational equipment that is not in use and by making sure any holiday lights and decorations are wrapped tightly wherever they are strung.
“Right now is a good opportunity to clean up your yard and to remove items a curious animal might stick its nose in or get wrapped up in,” said CPW Assistant Area Wildlife Manager Steve McClung out of the Durango office. “We see animals get wrapped up in netting, landscaping materials and holiday decorations all the time, and it can impair their mobility, vision and ability to eat and drink.”
When deer and elk become entangled, the stress involved and the physical exhaustion caused by trying to break free can lead to death.
Wildlife officers can often get deer untangled if they are nearby and notified in a timely manner. In some cases, they will cut off the animal’s antlers to free it. In other instances, they can remove the object. Some cases do not require human assistance if the entanglement is not preventing the animal from eating or drinking or if there is low risk that the animal could get caught up in other items that would prevent it from being mobile. In those instances, the animal will be free of the burden when it sheds its antlers.
“We need to know about these situations quickly,” McClung said. “It’s best if we can get to these animals before they’ve undergone too much stress and have exhausted themselves. Darting them also creates stress and can lead to mortality if the animal has already been stressed too much.
“If the animal is not tethered to what it is tangled in, it can also be difficult to chase them through a neighborhood and get into a position to dart them, or sometimes they disappear and we never catch up to help them. The sooner we get information, the more likely we will be able to assist that animal.”
As people begin to hang holiday decorations this season, CPW recommends lights and other decorations be placed higher than six feet or attached tightly to trees and buildings. Lights that hang low or that are draped insecurely over vegetation easily get tangled in antlers.
If you see wildlife that does become entangled, wildlife officials ask you to report that directly to CPW by calling an office local to you or through Colorado State Patrol if it is outside of normal business hours. When calling CSP, they will relay your information to the on-call wildlife officer in your area.
Be prepared when calling CPW with information regarding the animal’s location and time observed, its behavior, whether it is tied to an object or still mobile and if the hazard is preventing the animal from eating, drinking or breathing.
Do not try to free wildlife from entanglements yourself and always call CPW.
The rut – or breeding season – for deer enters its peak in late-November and will last through mid-December.
During this time, bucks have a one-track mind – they want a mate. So they can become agitated if any other animal, object or person appears to be posing a challenge. Dogs are often targets and they can be badly injured by a buck’s antlers.
Deer can become aggressive toward humans, too, so stay well away from them. Attacks get reported around the state each fall.
During the rutting season, bucks will also rub their antlers on various objects to mark territory and signal their presence to other bucks. That can further increase the possibility of tangle hazards.
You can learn more about living with wildlife by visiting the CPW website.
TOP LEFT: A mule deer buck with a hammock tangled in its antlers is also caught in barbed wire fencing.
TOP RIGHT: CPW biologist Jim White works to try to free a mule deer buck tangled in several yards of netting that surrounded a tennis court.
BOTTOM: Two different mule deer bucks tangled in Halloween decorations.