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Bambi Who?

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Soybeans are munched off before they can mature for harvest
ROANOKE RAPIDS — On the theater screens of thenation, Bambi is depicted as a charming young deer. But North Carolinafarmers, especially those in Halifax County, find Bambi's relatives to beoverwhelming -- literally.

Farmers are used to battling the elements, to outsmarting insects andweeds, to dealing with wet weather or droughts. But this year, the deerhave devoured their way into a costly problem.

These animals are not frightened away by scarecrows; fences around afarm's large acreage would be prohibitively expensive -- and many deercan scale a fence as easily as humans step over a curb.

By day, Michael Pittman's Halifax County soybean farm is quiet andstill. But by night, it turns into a banquet table for visitors from thewoods.

Halifax County has one of the largest populations in the state at about40 per square mile. Nearly one million deer, the most ever on record, aresearching the state for food right now. So many are eating Pittman's cropsthat some of his fields can't be harvested.

Pittman speaks of his frustration with the animals, which munch off thetender vegetation just as it begins to take on some growth. He said he wasin the field when a large group appeared and began to munch.

"They never let (the soybeanss) grow," Pittman said. "They just mowthemright 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.Peanutsare 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 deersnacking on tobacco, and even on cotton.

Deer, of course, have been eating crops for years, but there are somany more of them now, they do significantly more damage.

The state has relaxed some hunting laws to cut down on the deerpopulation, but no one is sure whatto do next. Deer hunting season began Sunday, and state wildlife expertssay hunting is still the most effective way to keep the deer population incheck.

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