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I was just up in Prince Rupert, BC and there were deer all over the city. Saw some earlier this summer in Port Alberni as well.

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Now, from what I understand of BC/Canadian gun and hunting laws, you can't hunt with a firearm within 15m of a road. Which makes a city entirely off limit. Extra bonus: no cougars!

Is this little guy likely to be aware of that? He certainly didn't really pay me much attention. We're also out of their hunting season here, but not by much as it starts in September.

i.e. would you expect a deer to be more skittish if encountered in the woods, but near a city which they frequent?

I remember a zoologist claiming to show one radio-collared deer changing its grazing pattern entirely as soon as the hunting season opened, complete with maps of pre-season vs in-season movements for that particular animal. Which is got me curious about whether they'd clue in on "urban safety".

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  • Why do you think there are no cougars? I've seen more cougars in my neighborhood than in the wild...
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 16 at 12:52
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  • Perhaps it is a case of knowing where the hunters will be, and how long the season lasts. Aug 16 at 14:35
  • Elk are all over the place in Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado). They nap on lawns. I don't know for a fact, but I very much doubt that hunting is allowed in Estes Park -- tourists are much more important to the local economy alive than any amount of dead elk meat. And, of course, there is no hunting in the Park.
    – ab2
    Aug 16 at 21:14
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    At some point, right at the start of hunting season, a huge flock of ptarmigans landed in the sole kindergarten at Longyearbyen, probably the safest place on the island for them ;-)
    – gerrit
    Aug 17 at 8:50

2 Answers 2

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A 2016 article in Basic and Applied Ecology (Andrew R. Little et al., Volume 17(4) 360-369, June 2016) is about tracking deer on an 1861 hectare (about 7.2 square miles) property before, during, and after hunting season. As noted in the abstract:

Deer responded to the presence of hunters on the landscape by adapting movement strategies both spatially and temporally to avoid potential contact with hunters.

Similarly, a 2020 article in Journal of Wildlife Management (Casey L. Brown et al., https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21916) which looks at femail mule deer behavior in an experimental forest in NE Oregon (SW of La Grande) states:

Our results indicate that deer at Starkey are adopting behavioral strategies in response to hunters by increasing their movement rates and selecting habitat in well-established ranges.

There are many other articles, including references in those papers, that all speak to deer changing their behavior during hunting season. The second one I referenced discussed more the broader impact on their year-round ranges.

Now, neither of these are city-specific, but it is clear that deer are smart enough to know a good thing when they see it and hang around the city.

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I doubt they understand the concept of "hunting" per se, but habituation will come into play here. They get used to being around humans and getting away with so they don't try as hard to avoid them and they have more safe encounters, the cycle repeats until you have situations like your picture.

I have had a fair number of reasonably close range encounters with large herbivores being no more than slightly wary of me in areas where hunting was prohibited and poaching unlikely. In areas where hunting was permitted I have yet to see anything more than distant and rapidly departing deer. However, it's never been a true apples-to-apples comparison because I've never been in an area with no hunting and as lightly used as the areas where hunting is permitted.

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  • The other answer, one comment's link, and my linked study seems to indicate deer understand human hunting well enough and take measures to avoid it. My Q is whether they've done the not-obvious and deliberately chosen to be in a crowded city, near humans. Haida Gwaai is also full of invasive deer (no predators), with extremely permissive hunting regulations and yup, they are all over folks' gardens there too. Aug 19 at 2:06
  • Where I live -- Great Falls, a suburb of DC with lots of deer and fox and also coyotes, deer often leave their fawns in the vicinity of houses when they go out to forage. Fox also often play in the vicinity of houses. They do this even when there are large areas of woods nearby. We interpret this as the animals know these are relatively safe areas. I'll try to find a reference.
    – ab2
    Aug 19 at 19:05
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    @ab2 It's pretty obvious we get classified as "large herbivore" in the minds of the habituated animals, whereas the ones not used to humans react like we are "large carnivore." I see the same thing with some of the squirrels--they clearly regard me as not a serious threat (but not something you want to get underfoot of) and they know packs often contain food. Aug 19 at 22:25

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