This past month, FD and I observed indicators that the whitetail deer rut was beginning. For those of you who do not have a clue as to what the rut is, it’s the breeding season for deer. All during the month of September, we noticed small groups of does and fawns gathering at the feeders and water tub below. They could be seen all hours of the day, and all through the nighttime hours as well. On a few cold, and sometimes windy nights, five or six sets of green eyes could be viewed out in the south pasture with a high-powered flashlight. The deer would bed down there, or sometimes venture to the oak tree, just to the east, in search of acorns. Often, we could see just as many further back in the woods at night.
Deer activity and feeding increased in September and October. During this time, our own Daisy deer was finding her place in a small herd of does and fawns. And, she was now sporting a fine, thick, winter coat and was eating more heavily than she had all summer.
This being Daisy’s first breeding season, I found myself pouring over online articles about the rut, and referring to my favorite resource books written by Leonard Lee Rue III; “Way of the Whitetail” and “Whitetails”. These were my go-to books any time I questioned deer habits and tendencies. Rue has spent a lifetime observing whitetail deer and photographing them. While he is also a hunter, his “soft science” approach and expressive insight in writing is most appealing to me as a deer mother.
In contrast, I have often experienced a bit of sadness, melancholy, and even upset at reading some of the general “hunter” advice online. I know hunter information is probably the best resource for understanding the rutting season, but this deer mother wants, and needs, an understanding from a biological standpoint. Difficult as some of the hunter viewpoint was to read, I am thankful to know there are many hunters who truly are respectful of the deer, and who are appreciative of the gift of life associated with the meat provided.
For any of you who wish to have a simple understanding of the Rut, without reading one of Rue’s books, I suggest this link, “The Deer Hunting Guide“.
Ever since Daisy was just a few days old, FD and I got in the habit of having “touch” contact with her. Brushing, grooming, picking parasites off of her, checking her hooves, and checking under her tail were common practices. This would allow us to safely check on and treat wounds, detect digestion problems, or keep check on any unusual behavior like limping without putting Daisy in panic mode. Most importantly, our handling of her has made it easy to put a new collar on when she has lost one. We always want Daisy to be safe wearing a reflective, blaze orange collar.
During the rut, however, we were also curious to check her vaginal area so that we could tell when she was “in season”. By early last week, she was beginning to show signs she was approaching “estrus”. Her vaginal area was pink and swelling slightly. Each day she was more swelled, and she was more aloof with us. She also smelled strongly of urine. As I mentioned in the caption above, urination is frequently done by both the buck and doe during the rut. I often observed Daisy urinating on her tarsal glands, rubbing the tarsals together while peeing on them. I also caught her one afternoon walking with her nose down to the ground, emitting a low grunting noise. Perhaps she was frustrated.
Then, Daisy disappeared for several days. I was more than a little worried during that time. Rifle season had begun and, while I knew the neighbors were not allowing hunters on their property, I had spotted a strange man lurking around the area one evening, which concerned me enough that I called the neighbors. They reported there had been some theft on their property the previous day, so I was a little relieved that, though this trespasser might be a thief, at least he did not appear to be a hunter or poacher! Still, with the occasional sound of gunshot in the near distance, I cringed with each blast, sending a prayer out for the safety of my Daisy girl and her new-found herd of does and fawns.
After being gone for four days, Daisy finally showed up. I spotted her at her favorite stop – the corn feeder. Unaware that she had worried her mother sick, she did not come to me as she usually does. Instead, she nibbled away at corn, even as I approached and began to pet her. I raised her tail. Sure enough, she was in season. Her vaginal area was raised and swollen. I assumed she had been mating with a buck this past four days, and had visions of a little granddeer in my future! I thought of Daisy with pride. I wondered what her first rut had been like, if she enjoyed it. Mostly though, I was just thankful to see her again.
The next morning, while having coffee and checking my email, I thought I saw something blaze by my computer room window but, looking out, I saw nothing. A short while later, my three little house dogs, the “Chindrin”, began barking up a ruckus at the front windows. I investigated, but found nothing unusual . Finally, just before noon, I got a call from my mother-in-law, telling me she had seen a “deer with antlers” on our driveway, and had shooed it back this way to the woods. Grabbing the camera, I took a walk around the property, even venturing back in the woods a little way, but did not see the antlered deer, or anything else.
I realized if there was a buck around, I would have to keep a closer watch on the property. So… I decided to iron. I always set up my ironing board at the sliding glass doors in our bedroom where I can see down to the feeding area below the slope. I generally watch a silly chick flick while ironing… some of these movies I’ve seen a dozen times. I watch for activity in the canyon down below, while mostly attending to my ironing, but glancing at the canyon and then to the TV. I had been pressing clothes only ten minutes when, glancing out the glass door, I saw the rear end of a large deer as it leapt over the neighbor’s fence! I ran for the camera and headed to the area where I had seen the deer go. Was it Daisy? It didn’t look like her hind quarters, but I could not be sure.
I waited quite a while but, not seeing anything in the distance, went back inside to resume my ironing. Just a few minutes later, I saw a buck in the canyon below! He was trotting, head down, as if sniffing the ground, and was heading west, along our fence line. I shut down my ironing operation, grabbed the camera with the zoom lens, donned my camouflage jacket, and went to the back porch. I waited, and waited… and waited. I snapped photos of some crows… and squirrels… and one little bird. I became bored. Sometimes wildlife photography requires great patience. But, it was a warm day and I was hopeful to see this young buck a bit closer. I was hungry for some interesting photos!
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too much longer. I heard snapping branches and the crackling of leaves coming from the pecan orchard to the north. The sounds seemed to be coming from a fenced area with wild, thorny cover. Deer often cross under the fence at this point. Suddenly, like a horse out of a starting gate, Daisy flew over the fence! With no hesitation, and head down low, she took off to the south, running over a hill I did not normally see her use. And, I thought, how strange of her not to stop for corn, her favorite snack!
Well, I can tell you it did not take long for me to see why my girl was running. The buck, a young four-pointer, was in pursuit! He stopped at the fence, nose down and sniffing, I heard him give out a deep, long, low grunt. If I had been closer it would have worried me. To me, the grunting was a menacing sound, not friendly at all. Then, up over the fence he went, nose down, grunting and following the same strange path Daisy had taken. Oh dear!! My girl was being pursued by a love-struck buck!
I continued to watch from my perch on the back porch for a long time, but saw nothing to the south or in the woods below. After an hour, I gave up and went inside. Everything had happened so fast that I had only a few pictures to show for the activity. I found myself feeling rather confused. I thought that Daisy surely had been bred during the four days she had been gone. After all, how long could this chasing go on? By the looks of things the last time I had seen Daisy, her vaginal swelling appeared to be subsiding. Surely her time of estrus was over?
I kept watch all afternoon and into the evening, looking for my girl, but never saw Daisy or her beau. I wondered how far the buck had chased poor Daisy. He had been panting, standing at the fence when I saw him last. Surely he would wear out after a time.
As the evening wore on, I opted to read more online articles about the rut. I discovered, after some research, that as long as there was hope that a doe was in estrus or approaching estrus, the buck would pursue her. Usually, they will breed during the twenty-four to twenty-eight hours when the doe is in full estrus. During this time, the buck stays with the doe, tending to her for the entire period. Mostly, this is to assure no other bucks bother his doe. After that time, he leaves her, in search of another doe in estrus.
That night, as always, I went out to the back porch with my flashlight to see what might be at the feeding station below. I saw the two little button bucks that hang with Daisy much of the time. They were alone. Likely, their mothers had run them off and, being bucks, they were left to hang on the fringe, away from the territory of larger bucks. They would not be allowed to join their mothers until after the rut. I scanned the south pasture where sometimes we see does bedded down. Just near the blackberry bushes, I saw the familiar blaze orange, reflective collar flashing back at me! Daisy often beds down near these blackberries. The bushes provide her a prime location from which to watch the woods, the house where “her people” live, and to observe activity on the street beyond. I believe it is a comforting spot for her, not far from the pen where she grew up as a little orphaned fawn.
Near midnight, I went outside one last time to check the canyon. Sure enough, the two little button bucks were back again. I felt sorry for them. What a confusing time it must be, being run off by their mothers and left all alone. I swung the flashlight over to the pasture, and there was Daisy’s green eyes reflecting back at me… but wait! Where was her orange collar?? I moved the flashlight, scanning a bit further, and there was my girl, facing me! But I could not make out the other deer who’s eyes had first reflected my light. Sneaking back in the house (the deer will spook if I make too much noise on the back porch), I grabbed the binoculars. While using one hand to shine the flashlight on the first deer, and the other hand to hold the binoculars (not easy to coordinate I might add!), I saw antlers on this one! The other deer was Daisy’s young beau! He was facing the alley and Daisy was facing our house, keeping watch together. The buck was tending to his doe. She was his to protect. Young as he was, he instinctively knew that this was his role. To ensure the carrying on of his genes, to tend to this young doe who would carry his offspring.
I went to bed that night in awe of the mystery of life and the ways of nature. I had dozens of questions to ask Daisy about this experience but, alas, that could never be. Instead, I would have to trust that nature would take care of everything, and that life would be as it was intended. Still, as I looked out over the pasture, seeing the two small shadows bedded down in the distance, I prayed for a little miracle… that the circle of life would continue another generation and that I would be privileged enough to experience its wonder.
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