Got deer problems. Is eating them an option?

When it comes to hunting, I’m a mystified non-believer: As long as I eat meat, I can’t protest someone shooting, say, a duck, or even a “real” animal. I just don’t understand why anybody would want to.

It’s not squeamishness. I’ve killed my dinner, dressed it out and slipped it into a Dutch oven with onions and tomatoes many times. As recreation, though, hunting doesn’t make my list of 100 favorite ways to spend a vacation. Live and let live.

If anyone wants to come by and machine-gun the mule deer out of my garden, though, there’s no need to call ahead.

Since time immemorial, which is to say 1980, we’ve planted tomatoes, peppers and whatever else feels right in a plot near our north fence. We’ve tended the soil carefully, applying compost and manure. Until a couple of years ago, if you dropped a Sugar Snap pea, you would have been well advised to step back lest the lunging vine poke you in the eye.

So it was until they built Somersett. Now that suburbia sprawls across the historic range of the Loyalton-Truckee deer herd, though, what few animals remain head down into my neighborhood each summer about the time the tomatoes ripen.

They came first two years ago, devastating the pumpkins (which I grow for fun, but still), stripping the fruit trees and taking one experimental bite from each jalapeño.

Last year, despite folk-remedy repellents (Lifebuoy soap, garlic, cayenne, animal hair and human urine, all personally applied by me), we were wiped out. From a dozen pepper plants, six varieties of tomato, 25 strawberries and three watermelon vines, we harvested one small bowl of salsa. I had to trim the bite marks off the chilis to salvage that.

This spring, I yielded to nature: I planted basil along the front walk, where normally we have flowers, and wedged tomatoes and peppers against the south side of the house. I can leave the porch light on at night, the reflected heat should help with ripening, and in fall I’ll hang a blanket from the eaves to foil frost.

The plants burgeoned. We harvested basil on the Fourth of July and were eating tomatoes by the 20th, two weeks earlier than normal. Either global warming has come to Verdi, or I’m a horticultural genius.

About the end of July, I realized—when I tripped over a roll of chicken wire on the patio—that I hadn’t installed my last level of protection. The plants were situated so I could screw a few hooks into a windowsill, then drape the wire from them to the ground, shielding out nibbling ungulates.

“Got to do that Saturday,” I told myself on Thursday afternoon.

At 3:30 Friday morning, our normally complacent spaniel woke us by hurling herself at the living room window and shrieking like Cujo. When I turned on the porch light (which, duh, I’d absent-mindedly snapped off when I went to bed), all the deer in the eastern Sierra stood blinking and chewing in the glare. What they hadn’t eaten, they’d broken down, and what they’d broken down, they’d walked on.

I propped up and splinted what I could save, driving stakes to support the tomato plants, and hung my too-late chicken wire without much hope. Most of the plants have survived, but production-wise, we’re where we were in May, with nickel-sized Early Girls and Lemon Boys interspersed with Numex peppers no bigger than peas, all unlikely to ripen before frost finishes what the deer started.

We’re up to our hips in potential venison, though.