Posted October 13, 1997
ROANOKE RAPIDS — On the theater screens of the nation, Bambi is depicted as a charming young deer. But North Carolina farmers, especially those in Halifax County, find Bambi's relatives to be overwhelming -- literally.
Farmers are used to battling the elements, to outsmarting insects and weeds, to dealing with wet weather or droughts. But this year, the deer have devoured their way into a costly problem.
These animals are not frightened away by scarecrows; fences around a farm's large acreage would be prohibitively expensive -- and many deer can scale a fence as easily as humans step over a curb.
By day, Michael Pittman's Halifax County soybean farm is quiet and still. But by night, it turns into a banquet table for visitors from the woods.
Halifax County has one of the largest populations in the state at about 40 per square mile. Nearly one million deer, the most ever on record, are searching the state for food right now. So many are eating Pittman's crops that some of his fields can't be harvested.
Pittman speaks of his frustration with the animals, which munch off the tender vegetation just as it begins to take on some growth. He said he was in the field when a large group appeared and began to munch.
"They never let (the soybeanss) grow," Pittman said. "They just mow them right down, they love to eat out the tops. The soybeans never had a chance."
Soybeans aren't the only crops that farmers say are under assault. Peanuts are also a favorite, and the list doesn't end there. As strange as it may sound, the deer don't limit themselves to crops we consider edible. Their palates, so to speak, are broader. Some farmers have caught deer snacking on tobacco, and even on cotton.
Deer, of course, have been eating crops for years, but there are so many more of them now, they do significantly more damage.
The state has relaxed some hunting laws to cut down on the deer population, but no one is sure what to do next. Deer hunting season began Sunday, and state wildlife experts say hunting is still the most effective way to keep the deer population in check.