sitka deer life as seen along setter lake, south thorne bay

When we first arrived at Setter Lake in 2006-7, our warmest welcoming committee consisted of  a little family of Sitka deer. The family unit consisted of the matriarch, affectionately nicknamed MamaDoe, her spotted twins, and a young spiked buck that appeared to be related to her. They=ir entry into our lives started with raiding our bird seeders, enthusiastically sampling our nascent vegetable garden, demolishing our twig-sized apple and Japanese maple trees, and munching their way through our strawberry plants much to our dismay.

MamaDoe's twin fawns and her single-spiked son.
MamaDoe’s twin fawns and her spiked son making themselves at home among our building material. This young adult male was always patient and gentle with all the fawns. Wearing reddish summer coats, he disappeared later in the year, unfortunately. The twins were male and disappeared late the second year.

But, what-the-heck-eh?  Where else c an we watch fawns and yearlings chase each other around the old growth, play king of the hill on our wood-chip mound, proud does parade their newbie fawns across our yard,amorous bucks court coquettish does, and just plain live their lives out in front of us or watch us go about our business while they browse or rest.  Talk about a reality show.

A little background about the Sitka Black-Tailed Deer

The Sitka black-tailed deer are native to Southeast Alaska, including Prince of Wales Island. The Sitka has been known to swim island to island.  They are petit,  graceful  and handsome members of the mule deer family.  The Sitka adult weight range between 80 to 120 pounds. The does weigh in on the lower end of the weight scale with the bucks on the upper range.

Sitka black-tailed doe
Lovely young Sitka black-tailed doe wearing brownish gray winter coat.

To put their size in perspective, our Shiloh Shepherds weight almost as much as a Sitka buck, and they out weigh the does.

Sitkas eat green vegetation including Alaskan brambles, bunchberries, young berry bushes,  and during the winters browse bark, berry bushes,  and lichen.

According to the Alaska Fish and Wildlife website (

During summer, deer generally feed on herbaceous vegetation and the green leaves of shrubs. In winter they are restricted to evergreen forbs and woody browse. When snow is not a problem, deer prefer evergreen forbs such as bunchberry and trailing bramble. During periods of deep snow, deer eat woody browse such as blueberry, yellow cedar and hemlock, and arboreal lichens. This browse alone, however, is not an adequate diet and deer rapidly deplete their energy reserves when restricted to such a limited diet.

Deer thrive on a mixed diet. These browsers eat the leaves and stems of woody plants and shrubs, as well as forbs – perennial and annual green forest plants. Unlike grazers such as cattle, sheep and bison, they very rarely eat grass. They do graze on emerging sedges on beaches during a short window in the spring.

Our observation is that in the early spring, the browsing deer drifting through our lot will nip the tips of green onions, fresh new-growth on berry bushes as well as the foul-tasting skunk cabbage… they browse things they would not otherwise consume.

Deer browsing habitats are endangered due to the severe clear-cut logging that

The face of a Sitka black-tail in winter coat.

continues.   Dense second-growth is exclusionary to sunlight, air and mammal movement, An example of an exclusionary second growth area was the patch on our lot, that was cleared of old growth; the second growth thicket created a dank, dark environment with no sunlight and nothing to support a Sitka deer or any other creature. Some areas are silent of birds as well.

The exclusionary second growth only succeeds in forcing deer out to the areas closer to human habitation, for example along the exposed sides of logging roads and highways as well as into areas of human habitation where they find alternative food sources making them more vulnerable to abuses by visitor and local residents.  One such example of abuse is the night nearly fifty deer were wantonly killed as they grazed along the roadside, their bodies left where they fell. Hunting from the roads is ILLEGAL and ugly.

Beautiful Paul
Resident spiked buck visiting deck strawberries on way back  into woods.

Deer are ruminants, like cows and other hooved mammals with no upper incisors.  Grinding the plant life that serves as food between their molars. The digestive process continues in their four chambered stomachs where they ruminate their food.

The Sitka deer four chambered stomachs “…contains bacteria specialized in breaking down cellulose. Since this bacteria is so specialized, they have tremendous difficulty digesting strange material and can die of starvation with their bellies full of food. ( 

This fact was brought home to us when the USFS found a deer that had died from winter starvation near Sandy Beach on Prince of Wales Island,  yet her stomach was full of undigested seaweed.

But let us not end this first of many Sitka blogs on a sad note…as it is soon fawn birthing season…Mature does of five or more years have twins. Young does have singlets.

This mature doe of five or more years is feeding her twins at the edge of our pad..

Sources and additional reading material.

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