ST. SIMONS ISLAND | As the sun lowered Wednesday, traffic was slowed a little on the island’s Frederica Road by an increasingly common sight — a half dozen fallow deer browsing in the tall grass on a vacant lot.
The deer range from dark brown to a spotted reddish tan, and they have enormous sets of flat antlers. People love seeing them, but Will Ricks, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist in Brunswick, is no fan.
“They’re an invasive exotic species,” he said.
The deer were brought to neighboring Little St. Simons Island in the early 1900s. In addition to their looks, they have the ability to swim and made their way to St. Simons Island, where they have multiplied. They have also been spotted on Jekyll Island and in mainland Brunswick, Ricks said.
Jekyll Island Authority conservationist Ben Carswell said there hasn’t been a sighting of the fallow deer there for a couple of years.
Carswell said there were just a couple and they could have remained out of sight, but he thinks they died.
“Deer don’t live that long. An 8-year-old deer is an old deer,” he said.
Carswell said he’s not concerned about the deer overrunning the island, at least for now.
But fallow deer are trouble, especially for native white tail deer, Ricks said.
“For starters, on the coastal barrier islands, we don’t have a lot of good forage for white tail and other mammal herbivores,” he said. “There used to be white tails on Little St. Simons. There are none now.”
With the fallow deer consuming much of the available food, the white tail population faded away on Little St. Simons and fallow deer now dominate the densely populated south end of St. Simons, he said.
There are still plenty of white tails elsewhere on St. Simons, especially on the north, enough to support some hunting clubs in heavily forested areas, Ricks said.
And Ricks said he wouldn’t classify fallow deer as a “highly invasive species.”
“If they were, they would have taken over the coast by now,” he said.
Still, the numbers are growing and the deer cause their share of trouble by eating their way through horticulture.
Ricks said he gets complaints and so does Freda Tawney at Ace Garden Center on St. Simons.
The deer love roses, starting with tender buds and then the young shoots, Tawney said.
They also like flowering vinca, begonia and other tender flowers, she said.
“They don’t mess with lantana, verbena and I haven’t heard of them messing with zinnias,” and they won’t touch society garlic, Tawney said.
If people insist on planting flowers and shrubs that deer like, they can always buy repellent sprays, but irrigation and rain dilutes those, she said.
Ricks said he advises people that the best protection is a fence and a dog in the yard.
Ricks said hunters could help, but most just let the fallow deer pass and wait for a trophy whitetail.
“They’re viewed a little bit more as pets,” he said. “We recommend if someone is deer hunting and they see a fallow deer, take it out. The same as feral hogs.”
Fallow deer venison is the same as whitetail and while they generally aren’t as attractive, their antlers are more impressive, he said.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405