Deep in the woods there is a great way to ensure that you get fantastic wildlife photography opportunities. Leave your camera home.
I’ve said before that our deer population is too high, and this year more than ever. Among the family here, there is one deer that has learned that Buddy and I are harmless. Harmless enough that in the woods he lets us come close enough and stay long enough to discuss life. The deer doesn’t say much, but he seems to be interested in what I say. Stupid things humans say to wild animals.
Keep in mind that Balsamea is densely forested, surrounded by forest on all sides, and many miles of it, with a smattering of houses. Our deer have not acclimated to people by their suburban gardens. Deer at Balsamea are wild. As they should be. Just one of them is getting too familiar with us since mid-summer.
Here at Balsamea we’ve always had lots of whitetail deer. I’ve seen them many times in the woods during our thrice-daily walks, a few times in the yard, on the road, and coming up and down the driveway. It seemed to me that our 19-acre patch of forest served as a popular route for them to go from the deep woods to the river, and to some apple trees across the road.
Now it seems we have our very own resident family of deer.
A few weeks ago while sauntering along one of our trails, Buddy was doing his usual sniffing and snooping everywhere, when suddenly a baby deer … not more than 25
pounds of it … let out a slightly blood-curdling wail as it scrambled out of a dense pile of sticks I made years ago when I opened that section of trail. Buddy was on the other side of the pile, backing out from where he had gone in to investigate. I think he was as surprised as the deer and I. The baby ran across the trail, directly perpendicular to my path, about three feet in front of me. It disappeared into the woods before I could say more than, “Buddy, stay here.”
He has been SO GOOD about obeying when I tell him not to chase. One day I tested him by letting him out the door when I saw three deer in front of the house. Buddy knows I don’t want him chasing the deer, so he now hesitates slightly before taking off. That hesitation is all I need for an opportunity to say, “Hey. You stay here.” And I don’t have to yell it or say it angrily. He just stays put, albeit a bit unhappily.
I don’t think he is “obeying” me. He is cooperating.
A few days ago we walked up on a big deer, standing in the trail not more than 75 feet away. When it bolted, oddly, it came toward us a bit, then turned. Buddy’s body went into that racing mode, but he stood still, pointing. I just said, “Good Buddy! You stay here.”
I am so lucky.
In warm weather, Buddy spends most of his time hanging out in the yard, supervising life out there. I keep his bell collar on for the same reason he wears it when we are in the woods. It makes it so easy to keep track of his whereabouts. I can tell by the nature of the bell ring when he is standing still, moving slowly, trotting, or in a full run. When he runs, I also hear the pounding of his feet (I call him Thunder Paws), and if we are in the woods, there is also the crashing of sticks and leaves and brush.
This brings me to the second meeting with the fawn. Sitting in this very seat, I heard Thunder Paws launch like a rocket. As I looked out the window, I saw him flying about 20 feet behind the fawn, now bigger than in our first encounter. I ran out and blew the whistle. Buddy was back in less than a minute. (I carry the whistle on a lariat around my neck all the time. It is a 1000-foot audible leash. Having trained him to it for five years now, it is infallible.)
This morning I saw the fawn again. A beautiful deer came browsing up the driveway, munching away on maple leaves and some other things. It moved so slowly that I had time to get the camera and ease the door open for some pictures. (None of them came out any good. The lighting was against me.)
The deer was moving away, making it easy for me to slip out the door and step slowly toward it, continuing to shoot, trying to get that one picture worth keeping. Then I heard noise in the trees and there it was, the youngster, now about half-grown.
The bigger deer (presumably mother) hesitated a moment when she heard the fawn moving, then went back to eating. She looked right at me, but ignored me. So I kept advancing, shooting. I got within about 50-60 feet before I decided to try to get her to pick up her head and turn toward me for a shot, and maybe catch a shot of her bounding away. So I said softly, “Boo!” That did it.
It’s fun, and I always love to see any wildlife. However, beautiful and fun as they are, I have a bone to pick with these deer. They eat my baby trees.
I was so happy with a little hawthorn looking so healthy. Overnight, it was chomped down to nubs. Same with a certain maple I want to cultivate as it grows. They love the tender young leaves of several kinds of tree. This autumn I’ll fence off these trees that I want to conserve.
It is a real problem, this tree-eating business. We have an overpopulation of deer. They eat so many young trees (seedlings, saplings) that they stunt the overall population of the things they like. This has an effect on the natural course of forest succession.
Alas, (does anybody say “alas” anymore?) as with invasive species and global warming and so many other things in life, the aberrant is now normal. The succession of the forest will be forever different now than it could have been if we had high-end predators controlling the deer population.
I’ve rambled on too long about this.
How about you? Any close encounters of the deer kind lately? Garden getting ransacked? What do you do about it?