In early October, I began to see signs of the rut beginning in our part of the woodlands. Where the usual deer sighting had been limited to does and fawns (mostly Daisy and her little herd), it became quite common to observe a few very young bucks roaming the area just below the slope. Often, a low grunting noise accompanied the sighting of a buck with his nose to the ground, in search of a doe. I saw Daisy or Spirit being chased many times, attempting to get away from the unwanted attention of these love-struck, one- and two-year-old bucks. Whitetail does are not interested in a buck until they are in estrus, and only then do they decide they are ready to mate – but that does not stop the boys from trying!
At times, it appeared that Daisy and Spirit almost seemed to enjoy the chase. One morning in particular, I witnessed Daisy going round and around the same hill in the woods, each time pausing near the feeders to wait for the buck to catch up. Just as he would catch up and start prancing towards her, making that low grunt of interest, she would take off running again. Another time, I spotted Spirit coming around our house on a dead run, then come around again and leap over the fence into our neighbor’s back yard just a minute later. Soon after, a young, one-antlered buck came trotting around the house, nose to the ground, intently searching for that good-looking gal who could run and jump like nobody’s business! Of course, both Daisy and Spirit knew their home territory well and, with that advantage, would be able to cleverly elude the young bucks – for now. But I knew it would not be long before both of them would come into estrus and would actively seek out a buck they were interested in.
Another aspect of the rut that I have been able to witness and document for the last two years, is the affect its chaos has on fawns. Last year when Daisy had only Spirit tagging along, Spirit was mostly able to keep up when Daisy was being chased. But on occasion, we would see Spirit bedded down or at the feeding station by herself, awaiting Daisy’s return. When Daisy did come in estrus, she disappeared for four days while she sought out a buck. During this time, Spirit managed just fine on her own, appearing comfortable with hanging out close to home and “the people” who seemed to know her mother so well. Sadly, that is not always the case for most fawns. Many fawns get separated from their mothers while trying to keep up with them as they run from the pursuit of a rutting buck. Unfortunately, they sometimes get hit by a vehicle while blindly following their mother across roads. Because of all the chasing going on, vehicular tragedies are fairly common during the rut.
Maybe because of the number of female deer involved (fawns included), this year’s mating season seemed to bring more chaos into Daisy’s herd. So far, I have witnessed four different bucks pursuing Daisy and Spirit. Often, this activity happens in the dark of night, so I can be sure there were many more chases than the four I observed. Early in October, after finally eluding a young buck, I twice found Daisy searching for one fawn or both. Hours later, after seeing she had finally located both Heidi and Dancer, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was also helpful to know that the fawns were now nearly six months old and able to survive on their own if need be. After watching Daisy continually seek out her fawns after the chase was over, I wondered if this could have been what happened to Spirit’s late-season fawn, Willow. After all, it was early October when she was last seen. Only two months old at the time, and considering the likely chaos and speed of the chase, it would have been difficult for her to keep up with her mother, and she certainly could not have survived on her own if she had become separated from Spirit.
Nonetheless, the rut was obviously progressing quickly and it would be possible that, before it concluded, both Heidi and Dancer would be the subject of interest of some young buck, totally enamored with their beauty. We had just recently decided that Dancer was a doe, rather than a buck, as we originally thought. On many occasions over the summer months, we observed another doe and her buck fawn feeding on deer chow down below the slope, and just recently discovered that her little buck had developed “button” antlers. Considering that Heidi and Dancer were about a week or two older, and that Dancer had no buttons, we now knew that Daisy had produced two doe fawns this year.
From the beginning, Dancer and Heidi were two very different personalities. Heidi always showed great confidence and was very leery of FD and me. She was also more robust than her sister and very aggressive during nursing time. She could always be seen stomping her little legs in earnest while sucking from Daisy’s udder. Ears back, Daisy simply endured the aggressive activity! Dancer, on the other hand, was a mama’s girl – always right beside Daisy. She seemed to sense that her mother was calm around us, and so she would be too. She accepted us as part of her mother’s herd, and did not fear us. When it came to her family members, Dancer seemed to be a worry wart. If Heidi ventured out of sight, Dancer cried after her. Or if everyone else arrived at the feeder ahead of Dancer, it was not uncommon to hear her bawling from back in the woods as if to say, “Hey! Wait for me!!”
And so, considering the progression of the rut, I was not really very concerned when Heidi and Dancer came up missing one recent morning. Daisy had shown me time and again that she would eventually locate her kids, and neither she nor Spirit seemed urgent as they headed out from the feeders to the pecan orchard that morning – an area they often frequented year-around. But later that afternoon, only Heidi appeared with Daisy and Spirit. By day three, I began to feel some of the same sadness of loss that I had when Willow disappeared a while back. Looking for an answer, I took a walk to the west and also to the north, but it was impossible to search in the thick weeds and heavy ground cover. Daisy’s ability to track by scent was a much better tool than my inept, human ways of tracking. Still, after Dancer had been gone more than a week, I took a drive down the nearby road to see if I might spot her body, hoping, at least, for some sort of closure – but I found nothing.
In my mind, where I can still see Dancer, she was an absolute beauty. Her markings and vivid blue eyes she had as a wee fawn, were outstanding. FD and I will both admit that she was our favorite. Her personality was calm and trusting. She was always the first to initiate mutual grooming with her mama or her sister. She was the first to bed down, knowing when she was ready to relax. She was vocal. And maybe that is what got her in trouble in the end… being vocal in the wild is not always a good thing. She never did well when separated from her family, crying out whenever she was alone. Yes, Dancer was a little girl with a most gentle spirit.
In nature, only the strong survive, while life happens all around. And as life presents itself, we do the best we know how – guided by instinct, by fear, by love. There are hard times, and there are seasons of bounty. There is loss, and there is new life. With each, we accept and move on. We come to the circle of being – of wisdom.
I try to be thankful for the gift of each moment I have spent with these incredible creatures of the woodlands. I cherish the gift of understanding they so often bring to me, though sometimes it is the gift of not understanding that comes my way. However it may be, each are Nature’s gifts – of miracle, and of mystery…
© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…