Dan Rattiner's Stories

Good Advice: The Best Way to Avoid Being Targeted by a Herd of Deer

Hamptons deer will find drivers who kill their comrades.

I had an encounter with a deer in our front yard the other morning. This almost never happens here. Our house sits on a hillside with front and back yards fenced in because that’s what the law says you have to do when you have a swimming pool. It discourages the deer.

This one must have leaped the fence to get in. There he was, striding around, all dignity and pride and full of himself. I could see him out the living room slider. What a beautiful animal. He wiggled his whiskers and licked his lips. He stopped by the deck. Searched the scene with his shifting eyes. He hadn’t seen me. He batted his eyelashes.

I knew what to do. All us locals know what to do.

I ran to the kitchen and got the lobster pot and a wooden spoon. My wife, who was setting the table for breakfast, looked up. Instantly, she saw the deer.

“Wrangle him to the gate,” she said. “But wait till I get out the front door to the other side to herd him into the woods and not into the street where he could get hit by a car.”

She got up and ran to the front door. I waited, and then, from the slider I could see her standing by the driveway beyond the gate. She waved.

Out onto the deck I went, banging the pot. The deer, startled, looked over at me and began to run off and up the hill. Still banging the pot, I chased him up there, herded him around back down the hill and off to the gate, now opened, which he saw as his chance. As he thundered out, my wife, off to one side, began clapping loudly, and off he went up into the woods away from the street. My wife and I smiled at each other. Another deer saved.

They appreciate it. They really do. I had an interesting thought. It had rained hard earlier that morning. I imagined myself coming out with a towel and rubbing him dry before he left. What a crazy thought. How do they get out of the rain anyway?

Single deer are usually pretty skittish, but in groups deer behave quite differently. With newfound confidence, they become wary, then angry and then ferocious. You must follow a certain procedure when you see deer in those situations, particularly if their ears are up. Ears-up means the deer are getting ready to charge. And if they do, you are a goner. For starters, they will bite your arms off. The rest you will not remember.

That’s why—and I’m sure you’ve noticed this—the pickup trucks that locals drive, with rare exception, have a rifle across their back windows. We’ve all lost friends. We don’t want to have that happen again.

Deer crossing sign mourns the dead
Deer crossing sign mourns the dead, Photo: Dan Rattiner

By the way, two deer making the rounds in the community are also not a problem. Twosomes are scouts, looking the place over so they can report back to the herd. Sometimes you see them out by the shoulder of the road, in pairs, looking at the license plates of parked cars. There were 472 accidents with cars in East Hampton last year and deer have posted the sign that accompanies this article (left).

They don’t take this lying down. After a period of mourning for their lost loved ones, they send out the scouts to try to find the killer. That’s why sometimes you see a car by the side of the road all bashed up and shattered, sometimes even with a driver at the wheel inside, now dead. It can happen.

Locals know, therefore, that if you see a deer alone on the road, or particularly two deer together, you slow down to pass carefully. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you’re safe, or probably safe, unless there is a case of mistaken identity.

A herd of deer, often a dozen together or more, are a different matter. When they spot their prey off in the distance, they become quiet and move in slow motion—this is the giveaway—and hide behind nearby shrubs and trees. When the leader issues the order to “spread out and encircle”—it’s a soft whistle with two or more snorts—the chosen herd members emerge from their hiding places, their eyes on their prey, usually human prey, and create the circle of doom. They lean forward, making slow steps forward. Their hooves thump through the grass. They snort. They are looking at you with hungry interest. They cock their heads. You are the tasty treat.

Over the years, the locals have learned—even in these very dire situations—how to defuse the situation. You will find, in the kitchens of every local home in the Hamptons, a refrigerator that has at least one shelf laden with many chunks of raw meat, each folded inside wax paper. On top of the refrigerator are metal skewers, the kind that are used for shish kebob.

Seeing the circle approaching completion, back up and run into that kitchen, take out the meat pieces, grab one of the metal skewers and burst out the kitchen door exhibiting confidence to face the largest deer—this will be the leader—walking toward you slowly while taking a piece of meat out of the wax paper and attaching it to the end of the metal skewer. When you are close enough, stop and display the skewer, then flick it as hard as you can to send the meat flying over the head of that deer so he just turns around and runs off to get it.

The other deer, expecting a further command, interpret this to mean “stand down and wander off,” which they all do, and suddenly this whole interaction changes. Now they are relaxed and curious. Is more meat going to be thrown out there?

Deer have small brains inside their skulls—if the leader says stand down and wander off, that is what they do.

Recently, however, this advice has begun losing its power. In recent years, it has become necessary to flick not one but two pieces of skewered meat one after the other before the lead deer turns around and heads off. And this year, I’m told, there have been times when a third flick of meat has become necessary. The deer, slowly but surely, are learning that this is just a trick.

One thing that is very important after you have flicked the meat, by the way, is to lower your gaze so as not make eye contact with any of the deer. It’s best to just look up briefly as you make the flick, to make sure you get it away properly. For the rest of the time, just stare at your shoes, and keep staring at them until you can sense the deer have left and the danger is over.

It usually is.

One other very important thing not to do when surrounded is to whip out your cell phone and call 911. The deer have learned, just this year, that if they hear the boop beep beep of 911 being called, they simply charge instantly and wildly—making horrible squealing noises—to all pounce together and put a bloody end to things before anyone at the other end of the 911 call can even inquire what the problem is. You will be eaten alive without a trace, right down to your rubber sandals and sunglasses.

Little brains, yes. But impeccable instincts.

Memorize this: Meat. Wax Paper. Skewer. Rubber sandals. Sunglasses. No 911. Lobster pot. Wooden spoon. Rifle rack.

Dan’s Papers hopes you will memorize this advice. It will save your life.

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