TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Deer (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Handling and Transport which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer, Cervus elaphus - Red deer, Cervus nippon - Sika deer, Dama dama - Fallow deer, Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer, Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac.

These species are from the family Cervidae.

  • Adult healthy wild deer in the UK are normally nervous, and difficult to catch and handle. Deer (particularly males with antlers or tusks) can be dangerous and may cause severe injuries to handlers. Cervus nippon - Sika deer tend to bite and Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac and Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer may cause damage with their large canines.
  • Deer are prone to self-injury and, on catching and handling, may fracture limbs and damage antlers which are in velvet.
  • Animals which have been severely injured and are suffering from shock may sometimes be easily handled, however others will require general anaesthesia for any handling.
  • The following information describes methods, considerations and constraints that have been published or observed in association with catching and handling casualty deer (not including fawns) in the UK.

ABOVE ALL: Careful clinical judgement must be used when deciding on the method of capture, assessing the physical condition of the animal and deciding on the amount of restraint that will be required.


Catching:

Large deer - Cervus elaphus - Red deer, Cervus nippon - Sika deer

  • Large deer which are still mobile require sedation/general anaesthesia with drugs administered by darting (remote injection).(B151)
  • Large deer which are partially immobilised, for example caught in a fence or severely injured in a road traffic accident, will generally require sedation/general anaesthesia delivered by dart, pole syringe or possibly by hand injection, in order to allow safe restraint with minimum risk of injury to deer or handlers and minimum stress to the deer.
  • Only for animals which are already in shock may sedation/general anaesthesia be unnecessary or contraindicated.
  • Always cover the eyes as soon as possible to help calm the animal, e.g. with a blanket or large towel thrown over before the deer is under control (for a deer which is partially immobilised, for example caught in a fence) or a shirt tied under the chin once the deer is caught. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • (B151, V.w5, V.w6, D24)

Medium-sized deer - Dama dama - Fallow deer

  • Fallow deer which are still mobile require sedation/general anaesthesia with drugs administered by darting (remote injection).
  • Deer which are partially immobilised, for example caught in a fence or severely injured in a road traffic accident, will generally require sedation/general anaesthesia delivered by dart, pole syringe or possibly by hand injection, in order to allow safe handling with minimum risk of injury to deer or handlers and minimum stress to the deer.
  • Only for animals which are already in shock may tranquillisation be unnecessary or contraindicated.
  • A minimum of two people are required for handling; one person should hold the head/neck and forelimbs, the other have control over the hindquarters, to minimise kicking and thrashing.
  • Always cover the eyes as soon as possible to help calm the animal, e.g. with a blanket or large towel thrown over before the deer is under control (for a deer which is partially immobilised, for example caught in a fence) or a shirt tied under the chin once the deer is caught. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to help prevent goring injuries to the handlers.(D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • (B151, V.w5, V.w6, D24)

Medium-sized deer -Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer

  • Roe deer are highly nervous and extremely prone to stress, shock and capture myopathy. See: Capture Myopathy (with special reference to Waterfowl and UK Wildlife)
  • Roe deer which are still mobile may require sedation/general anaesthesia with drugs administered by darting (remote injection).
  • Catching in a "walk-towards" net (these are about 1 metre wide, several metres long and similar in appearance to a tennis net) may also be applicable.
  • Deer which are partially immobilised, for example caught in a fence or severely injured in a road traffic accident, may also require sedation/general anaesthesia delivered by dart, pole syringe or hand injection, in order to allow safe handling with minimum risk of injury to deer or handlers and minimum stress to the deer.
  • A minimum of two people are preferable for handling; one person should hold the head/neck and forelimbs, the other have control over the hindquarters, to minimise kicking and thrashing.
  • Always cover the eyes as soon as possible to help calm the animal, e.g. with a blanket or large towel thrown over before the deer is under control (for a deer which is partially immobilised, for example caught in a fence) or a shirt tied under the chin once the deer is caught. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to help prevent goring injuries to the handlers; N.B. the antlers of roe deer are very sharp. (D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Transfer to an appropriate-sized and preferably padded transport crate as soon as possible. See: Accommodation of Casualty Deer - Transport Container
  • (J35.143.w1, B117.w10, B151, D24, V.w5, V.w6)

Small deer - Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer, Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac

  • These species are very nervous and prone to stress and capture myopathy.
  • Large long-handled nets and/or "walk-towards" nets (these are about 1 metre wide, several metres long and similar in appearance to a tennis net) may be used for catching small deer. (B151)
  • If possible a "walk-towards" net should be placed in position without the deer being aware of the operation;
    • It has been documented that muntjac which have had a chance to see and inspect a net before being driven towards it will be reluctant to approach the net, make considerable efforts to avoid it and be more likely to be in a highly excited state by the time capture is successful.(J35.143.w1)
  • The time taken in running the deer into a net must be minimised.
    • Chinese water deer in particular may easily overheat if they are run around for more than a few minutes.(B117.w10)
  • Deer caught in a net may struggle sufficiently to break a leg or their neck; the risk of this may be minimised by rapid restraint of the animal by one or two people.
    • The deer should be retrained by being held to the ground by the shoulders and rump.
    • Kneeling astride the deer may be useful but great care must be taken not to kneel/tread on the deer's legs nor to put excessive pressure on the deer (it should not be sat on).
    • (J35.143.w1)
  • Always cover the eyes as soon as possible to help calm the animal, e.g. with a blanket or large towel thrown over before the deer is under control or a shirt tied under the chin once the deer is caught. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to help prevent goring injuries to the handlers (D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Mild sedation by hand-injection may be appropriate to reduce risk of injury to deer or handlers and minimum stress to the deer.
  • Transfer to an appropriate-sized and preferably padded transport crate as soon as possible. See: Accommodation of Casualty Deer - Transport Container
  • (J35.143.w1, B117.w10, B151, D24, V.w5, V.w6)

Handling/Carrying:

Large deer:

  • Cervus elaphus - Red deer, Cervus nippon - Sika deer
  • Larger deer species, unless severely injured/debilitated, require sedation/general anaesthesia for safe handling and carrying.
    • Handling of non-sedated individuals should not be attempted with conscious, bright, wild adult deer. 
  • The eyes should be covered as soon as possible and kept covered during handling and carrying.
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to help prevent goring injuries to the handlers.(D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Once sedated, these deer may be carried on a stretcher, on a tarpaulin or using a cargo net. At least two people will be required for carrying these deer; more people may be required for carrying animals over difficult terrain including uphill or through mud.
  • (D24, B151, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

Medium-sized deer Dama dama - Fallow deer

  • Sedation is required for carrying and handling except perhaps for severely debilitated animals or deer in shock.
  • Cover the eyes as soon as possible with a cloth mask and keep them covered during handling.
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to help prevent goring injuries to the handlers.(D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • These deer may be carried using a stretcher, a cargo net or a tarpaulin carried by at least two people; more people may be required for carrying animals over difficult terrain including uphill or through mud.
  • (B151, V.w5, V.w6, D24)

Medium-sized deer -Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer

  • Roe deer are highly nervous and extremely prone to stress, shock and capture myopathy.
  • The deer should be restrained by being held to the ground by the shoulders and rump.
    • Kneeling astride the deer may be useful but great care must be taken not to kneel/tread on the deer's legs nor to put excessive pressure on the deer (it should not be sat on).
  • (J35.143.w1)
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to help prevent goring injuries to the handlers.(D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Careful restraint is important to prevent the legs thrashing around and reduce the risk of self inflicted injury, including leg fractures.
  • Cover the eyes as soon as possible with a cloth mask and keep them covered during handling.
  • It is possible for deer of this size to be carried by hand by one person; this is not appropriate for bright, active deer but may be useful for stunned animals or animals in shock.
  • Mild sedation by hand-injection may be appropriate to reduce risk of injury to deer or handlers and minimum stress to the deer.
  • These deer should preferably be carried inside an appropriate-sized and preferably padded transport crate. See: Accommodation of Casualty Deer - Transport Container
  • (J35.143.w1, B117.w10, B151, D24, V.w5, V.w6)

Small deer: Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer, Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac

  • These species are very nervous and prone to stress and capture myopathy.
  • The deer should be restrained by being held to the ground by the shoulders and rump.
    • Kneeling astride the deer may be useful but great care must be taken not to kneel/tread on the deer's legs nor to put excessive pressure on the deer (it should not be sat on).
  • (J35.143.w1)
  • Careful restraint is important to prevent the legs thrashing around and reduce the risk of self inflicted injury, including leg fractures.
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head of muntjac deer;  antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to avoid goring injuries to the handlers.(D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Cover the eyes as soon as possible with a cloth mask and keep them covered during handling.
  • It is possible for deer of this size to be carried by hand by one person; this is not appropriate for bright, active deer but may be useful for stunned animals or animals in shock.
  • Mild sedation by hand-injection may be appropriate to reduce risk of injury to deer or handlers and minimum stress to the deer.
  • These deer should preferably be carried inside an appropriate-sized and preferably padded transport crate. See: Accommodation of Casualty Deer - Transport Container
  • (J35.143.w1, B117.w10, B151, D24, V.w5, V.w6).

Restraint for examination and treatment:

Large deer - Cervus elaphus - Red deer, Cervus nippon - Sika deer:

  • Sedation/general anaesthesia is generally required for examination and treatment of individuals of these species.
  • Only for animals which are already in shock may sedation/general anaesthesia be unnecessary or contraindicated.
  • The eyes should be kept covered at all times for animals which are not fully anaesthetised.

Medium-sized deer Dama dama - Fallow deer

  • Sedation/general anaesthesia is generally required for examination and treatment of individuals of this species.
  • Only for animals which are already in shock may sedation/general anaesthesia be unnecessary or contraindicated.
  • The eyes should be kept covered at all times for animals which are not fully anaesthetised.

Medium-sized deer -Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer

  • Roe deer are highly nervous and extremely prone to stress, shock and capture myopathy.
  • Brief examination and minor treatment may be possible using physical restraint.
  • If physical restraint is used, the deer should be restrained in a quiet stable on ample bedding such as hay, with particular care taken to ensure adequate careful restraint of the limbs and antlers.
    • The head and legs must be controlled quickly.
    • Hold the animal in a sitting position (sternal recumbency) if possible.
    • A firm but flexible grip on the legs is required; leg fractures may result from too rigid holding.
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head; antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to avoid goring injuries to the handlers (D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Sedation/general anaesthesia may be required for prolonged examination and extensive treatment of individuals of this species.
  • Only for animals which are already in shock may sedation/general anaesthesia be unnecessary or contraindicated.
  • The eyes should be kept covered at all times for animals which are not fully anaesthetised.
  • (N4.21.w2, V.w5, V.w26)

Small deer: Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer, Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac

  • These species are very nervous and prone to stress and capture myopathy.
  • Brief examination and minor treatment may be possible using physical restraint.
  • If physical restraint is used, the deer should be restrained in a quiet stable on ample bedding such as hay, with particular care taken to ensure adequate careful restraint of the limbs and antlers.
    • The head and legs must be controlled quickly.
    • Hold the animal in a sitting position (sternal recumbency) if possible.
    • A firm but flexible grip on the legs is required; leg fractures may result from too rigid holding.
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) may be used for holding the head of muntjac deer;  antlers should be covered with cloth such as a towel as soon as possible to avoid goring injuries to the handlers.(D24, B151, V.w5)
  • Care must be taken to avoid damage to antlers in velvet. (V.w5, V.w6, D24)
  • Cover the eyes as soon as possible with a cloth mask and keep them covered during handling.
  • Sedation/general anaesthesia may be required for prolonged examination and extensive treatment of individuals of these species.
  • Only for animals which are already in shock may sedation/general anaesthesia be contraindicated.
  • The eyes should be kept covered at all times for animals which are not fully anaesthetised.
  • An elaborate crate has been described, incorporating observation panels and a crush facility to allow examination and restraint prior to anaesthesia of muntjac deer during scientific studies.(J35.143.w1)
  • (V.w5)

General Anaesthesia and Sedation:

  • Chemical restraint is generally required for capture and initial restraint of large to medium-sized deer.

  • Chemical restraint is generally required for thorough examination and treatment of deer.

General Information:

  • Sometimes there may be a requirement for additional "top-up" doses of injectable anaesthetics (V.w6, V.w26) and the following should be considered:
    • it is not desirable to reach the situation where additional doses are being given in order to reach initial stable anaesthesia whilst the first drugs are wearing off. It is all too easy to overdose in this situation. If three injections are not effective - if possible, it is highly advisable to stop the procedure, allow the anaesthesia to wear off and then repeat the procedure at a later date using higher doses initially.
    • when increasing dosages, careful consideration should be given both the side-effects of the drugs and the availability of reversal agents
    • If an intravenous injection can be given, it may allow more control over the depth of anaesthesia
    • if a top-up dose is required, the following rule of thumb is recommended:
  1. If there is little effect on the animal after 15 minutes (it is alert and reponsive), give a second full dose
  2. If the animal is clearly affected but still active after 15 minutes, give a 3/4 dose.
  3. If there is some degree of anaethesia, but a deeper level is required, give 1/2 dose.
  4. Beyond that - use best judgement.

(V.w6)

Suggested protocols for sedation and general anaesthesia include:

  • DEER MUST BE KEPT IN STERNAL RECUMBENCY (ON BRISKET) AT ALL TIMES DURING GENERAL ANAESTHESIA. DO NOT ALLOW THE ANIMAL TO ROLL ONTO ITS SIDE OR BACK AT ANY TIME AS THIS MAY LEAD TO REGURGITATION AND DEATH THROUGH ASPHYXIATION OR (MORE SLOWLY) THROUGH INHALATION PNEUMONIA (V.w5, V.w6)
  • Keep the head elevated during anaesthesia to reduce the risk of regurgitation.
  • Intubation is recommended, together with passing a stomach tube to prevent bloat (gas accumulation).
  • Constant monitoring for bloat is recommended.
  • Monitor body temperature throughout any general anaesthetic. (B205)
  • A mild sedative may be required for calming deer to reduce the stress of handing; diazepam, 1mg/kg intramuscular has been described as a suitable sedative for this purpose. (B151)
  • Etorphine plus acepromazine (Immobilon LA, C-Vet), 0.5-0.7 ml per 50kg bodyweight intramuscular (dose for red and roe deer); not recommended for use in fallow deer (J15.17.w1, B205).
  • Hellabrun mix (4ml ketamine 100mg/ml (Vetalar, Parke Davis) added to 500mg xylazine (Rompun Dry Substance, Bayer). 1-2ml per red deer, up to 3ml per fallow deer intramuscular. (J15.17.w1, B205)
  • Ketamine 5-8mg/kg plus xylazine 0.5-1.0mg/kg, intramuscular or intravenous (J3.114.w6).
    • [General] anaesthesia lasts 15-20 minutes
    • May be prolonged by further doses, one third to one half of the original dose, intravenous, every 10-15 minutes.
    • (J3.114.w6)
  • Detomidine (Domosedan, SmithKline Beecham) 60-90 g/kg bodyweight plus ketamine 1-2mg/kg bodyweight [Route not specified] (J15.17.w1, B205).
  • Medetomidine (Domitor, SmithKline Beecham) 60-90 g/kg bodyweight plus ketamine 1-2mg/kg bodyweight [Route not specified but presumed intramuscular] (J15.17.w1, B205).
  • The effects of medetomidine are normally reversed by injection of the agent atipamezole, unless otherwise indicated. (V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)
  • Dose rate and time to onset vary with species, body condition, rutting in males. (J15.17.w1)
  • Deepening and prolongation of general anaesthesia for surgery can be performed using halothane (1%) or isoflurane (1.5%) (B205).
  • The length of starvation prior to induction of general anaesthesia should be appropriate for the species in question and the likelihood of regurgitation. Clinical judgement should be used as to the pros and cons of starvation in an emergency situation. Starvation may not be appropriate for small species with a high metabolic rate which must eat frequently to survive.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Catching adult wild deer by hand is likely to be applicable only for individuals which are seriously disabled/debilitated, individuals which are already "caught" e.g. in a fence, or for small species in a confined area.
  • Hard antlers (i.e. out of velvet) may be held to give control of the head.
  • Catch only if necessary.
  • Handling of wild animals should be minimised.
  • Consider design of accommodation and timing of treatments to minimise requirements for capture and handling.
  • Consider whether physical or chemical restraint is more appropriate - chemical restraint may be required for:
    • initial capture and restraint of medium to large deer.
    • examination and treatment.
Notes
  • The eyes should be covered whenever possible when handling deer, to reduce stress. A cotton shirt may be tied over the eyes and under the chin as a blindfold in all deer. (V.w5, V.w6)
  • Secure towels around the antlers (particularly of Capreolus capreolus - Roe deer and Muntiacus reevesi - Reeve's muntjac ) to avoid goring injuries to handlers.
  • Protect antlers in velvet; these are easily damaged.
  • Monitor temperature throughout any general anaesthetic. (B205)
  • In some situations, particularly where an animal can be easily targeted, the use of darting techniques may greatly decrease the stress of capture when compared with physical capture combined with hand-injection. In using darting techniques, the following points must be remembered:
    • The size of needle, volume and viscosity of the fluid and the amount of power used to project the dart should be appropriate to the size of the muscle mass and thickness of the skin. The use of inappropriate equipment and materials can cause serious damage to the animal.
    • Darting should only be undertaken by experienced personnel holding the requisite UK firearms licence.
  • (V.w6)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • DEER MUST BE KEPT IN STERNAL RECUMBENCY (ON BRISKET) AT ALL TIMES. DO NOT ALLOW TO ROLL ONTO SIDE OR BACK AT ANY TIME AS THIS MAY LEAD TO REGURGITATION AND DEATH THROUGH ASPHYXIATION OR (MORE SLOWLY) THROUGH INHALATION PNEUMONIA (V.w5, V.w6)
  • Particular care must be taken when handling deer with antlers in velvet (V.w5, V.w6, D24). Antlers in velvet are relatively soft, easily broken and bleed profusely if fractured (B123).
  • Hard antlers (out of velvet) should be considered as dangerous:
    • Antlers of Capreolus capreolus - Roe deer bucks are very dangerous as they are sharply pointed and can cause serious goring injuries.
    • Antlers of Muntiacus reevesi - Reeve's muntjac are also pointed but are shorter.
    • Antlers of the larger species may be used to strike a heavy blow on a handler.
  • Deer may strike with their front feet (B123). All four limbs may cause severe injuries to the handlers if the deer is allowed to thrash around during handling.
  • Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer and Muntiacus reevesi - Reeve's muntjac may slash with their tusks.
  • Deer are at high risk of stress, shock and capture myopathy during capture and restraint, particularly if allowed to struggle and in hot weather. See: Capture Myopathy (with special reference to Waterfowl and UK Wildlife)
    • Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer may be at particular risk of hyperthermia due to their thick coat. (B117.10.w10)
  • Deer caught in a net may struggle sufficiently to break a leg or their neck; the risk of this may be minimised by rapid hand-immobilisation.
  • Use of hobbles on deer during handling and transportation is not recommended as these may result in severe injuries to the distal limbs of the deer (D24).
  • Darts may cause physical injury to the deer, particularly for smaller individuals or if the dart hits in the wrong place.
  • Excitation may occur with the use of etorphine plus acepromazine (Immobilon [LA], C-Vet) (B205).
  • The use of etorphine plus acepromazine (Immobilon [LA], C-Vet) in fallow deer has been associated with high numbers of cardiac arrests (B205).
  • The use of netting is not suitable for catching wild red, sika or fallow deer under any circumstances.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate nets - large hand-nets, "walk-towards" nets.
    • Hand net of one metre depth, 70cm frame (rim) diameter, 10cm mesh, with a stout 1m handle (J3.114.w6)
    • "Walk towards" net one metre wide, several metres long, similar to tennis netting in appearance.
  • Appropriate blindfold/ suitable cloth or bandage for use as a blindfold.
  • Carrying equipment such as stretcher or cargo net.
  • Dart gun and darts if chemical restraint is required for capture.
  • Appropriate drugs if required for capture or restraint.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experience is advantageous for safe handling of deer and essential for the larger species; inexperienced persons should seek appropriate advice and assistance.
Cost/ Availability
  • Some drugs used for chemical restraint/anaesthesia are expensive.
  • Drugs used for chemical restraint may only be available to veterinary surgeons or other licensed persons.
  • There are variable costs associated with the purchase of equipment such as nets and stretchers; these may be available from specialist suppliers or veterinary suppliers.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Risks to human health, including physical injury and risks of zoonotic illness, must be considered (Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974).
  • Particular attention should be paid to the zoonotic risk posed by tuberculosis in deer (further information is available in Mammalian tuberculosis in badgers).
  • The Deer Act 1991 prohibits the "taking" of deer in their close season in England and Wales; however the Act permits (Section 6) the "taking" (i.e. capture) of injured or diseased deer to prevent suffering, including during the close season and at night, and the use of traps or nets to take such an individual.
  • The Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 permits the "taking" of injured or diseased deer, and of deer calves/fawns/kids which are, or are about to be deprived of their mother, in order to prevent suffering (Section 25). The wording permits the use of any means of "taking" of deer, even if otherwise prohibited under the Act.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties - Taking of Animals.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References J3.114.w6, J15.17.w1, J35.143.w1, B117.10.w10, B123, B151, B205, N4.21.w2, D24, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26

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