Lost In The Chaos of the Rut

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!

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Dancer is just a week old, hidden in the iris beds.
Dancer is just a week old, hidden in the iris beds.

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.

Dancer was never far from her Mama Daisy.
Dancer is never far from her Mama Daisy.
Dancer and Heidi were inseparable all summer.
Dancer and Heidi were inseparable all summer.
Daisy and Dancer sharing a nibble of corn.
Daisy and Dancer sharing a nibble of corn.

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.

Dancer acquired quite an injury to her head late in July.
Dancer acquired quite an injury to her head late in July.

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!!”

Dancer was easy to identify with the little black strap under her chin!
Dancer is easy to identify with the little black strap under her chin!

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.

Dancer (front) mutual grooming with Heidi.
Dancer (front) mutual grooming with Heidi.
Dancer resting at the base of the slope.
Dancer resting at the base of the slope.
Dancer and Daisy mutual grooming.
Dancer and Daisy mutual grooming.

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.

Daisy Heidi and Dancer bedded down at the dry creek.
Daisy Heidi and Dancer bedded down at the dry creek.
Everyone shares a corn snack on a hot afternoon!
Everyone shares a corn snack on a hot afternoon!
Daisy grooms Dancer during a family gathering in the clover patch. This is the last evening I photographed Dancer with the little herd.
Daisy grooms Dancer during a family gathering in the clover patch. This is the last evening I photographed Dancer with the little herd.

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…

Willow and Dancer, October 6, 2014.
Willow and Dancer, October 6, 2014.

© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


51 thoughts on “Lost In The Chaos of the Rut

  1. You get some of the most wonderful deer photos. I’ve yet to get a good shot of a deer. For me it’s like catching a glimpse of Bigfoot… by the time I get my camera at ready it’s nothing but a white tail bouncing off through the woods. Especially so now since deer season has kicked into gear around here.
    I hate to hear about Dancer. Through your stories I’ve come to know how much you care about these different animals that you nurse back to health or help along during the winter and whether we mean to or not they become a part of our lives and thus become a part of our family. Nature is a wonderful and beautiful place but it’s also a cruel teacher. Unfortunately all we can do is sit back and watch life unfold, help when we can and accept the sadness of loss when it comes because whether we like it or not we are all only here for a finite amount of time. What we do with that time while we are here is what makes the difference and in my eyes you make a difference in many different ways.
    Stay safe and keep warm. I’m sure the temperatures will pick back up a little before the real winter kicks in. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for such a kind reply. Daisy makes photographing the deer fairly easy for me. Even the wild deer outside of Daisy’s herd are calm because Daisy and her little herd are calm. And of course we have the small feeding area just below the house, so it is a common gathering place for a varied species of wildlife. Now the bucks are a whole different story. I have to sit patiently for long periods to see one – maybe. Though I will say during the rut I can be in an obvious spot and they are so into the pursuit of the does that they don’t see me until I make a move! I photographed one just a couple of days ago doing a “lip curl” as it walked towards me. I finally got a bit spooked and decided to make a slight move so that it would see me. I saw those antlers and worried I could be gored if the buck reacted badly!

      I now understand the multiple births in the deer population. I believe there is a large ratio of loss in a year’s time. Being able to observe at such a close range helps me to understand that loss is quite common. I see it in other species. When the cottontails are plentiful, the foxes and coyotes are not in the area. Squirrels thrive for a time, but birds of prey and disease can quickly bring populations down. Life comes and goes here and I try to accept the ways of nature. You are right – they are part of our family.

      The temperatures are brutal this week – and they’re talking snow or a mix on the weekend. I do not get to complain too much. My family back in Nebraska has it real tough. I do hope we warm back up again. I feel sorry for our squirrels, Punkin and Mr. Gambini… they did not come out of their houses in the cage except to eat the last two days. They’re still so little! You keep safe and warm too my friend! I’m enjoying your daily photographs… warms the soul. 🙂

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      1. Thanks for the compliment! I enjoying working photographs and experimenting with different mediums. It’s nice to know that others can see something of me in the photographs and express myself in that way because I’m not a particularly social person. 🙂 I can deal with a bit of wintry mix.. just don’t give me icy roads and freezing rain. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best.

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        1. I am not social either… I feel more at ease walking the woodlands. I prefer the blogging community to share and converse with. You live in such a beautiful area of the state. I’d be hiking and photographing all of the time were I in your shoes! One thing about snow and ice here – it only lasts a few days and it melts fairly quickly. I’m confident the weather will warm back up again! 🙂

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  2. A poignant reflection and gorgeous sensitive pictures! Deer are such beautiful creatures. I know most people don’t think of goats as particularly attractive but I lived on a farm once where I was responsible for caring for a herd in the paddocks. They had very different personalities and I became quite attached to them. I’d watch over the new mums and their kids with anxious eyes. You can’t help but feel a sense of loss when you’ve followed their progress closely and they disappear. I cared for a number of injured wildlife as well and it’s such a joy to see them recover. But of course there is also disappointment and loss as well. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for such a lovely comment, Jane. Interacting with animals, be they domestic or wild, gives one a sense of the responsibility involved – in caring, yet allowing. It is so easy to be drawn into their world, yet our more emotional and “controlling” nature must be put aside. Daisy is living her wild life, surviving and procreating. I am grateful that she still comes to visit her human family, and I am so happy that she has delighted us with her growing herd. As family, it is natural to share all aspects and feelings with life and loss. Thank you for sharing about your experiences with animals. Personally, goats are one of the most entertaining species there is. And the little kids are so sweet! 🙂

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  3. I am so, so sorry for your loss! Two in one year isn’t fair.
    Watching from a distance, as you do, takes a lot of strength. With ranch animals, we get down in dirty in the mess of it, often taking a medicated fight to the animals we care about. Somehow, I think that way is easier, because you get to fight with them. Because your friends are wild, you don’t have that option, and you have to let nature be nature. I think that would be harder, and perhaps require more bravery.

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    1. Thank you for such a kind comment, Cherity. I suppose in some ways it is easier too, though. I often wonder that the wild ones just disappearing isn’t kinder than realizing some kind of tragedy. There is little I can do regardless that loss comes from accident, disease, or predation. We just accept and decide to be grateful for the time we knew these beautiful beings.

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  4. Hi Lori, so sorry to read about Dancer disappearing. For me, like you, living with my dogs and cat and observing wildlife is how we are meant to live, not isolated in our own human cliques, despite the loss of many companions during our long lives. You may have already seen this video, which my daughter passed on to me. I hope it makes you smile xxx
    http://www.wimp.com/dogdeer/

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  5. Oh gee whiz. I hate reading about any of your little herd disappearing. I’m not sure how you continue to adjust to the loss of the deer that you have been photographing and observing over time. I’m so sorry that Dancer has been lost. I was hoping that by the end of the post that she was still around. Again, I am truly sorry that she, the gentle one did not make it .Take care, Lori.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Yvonne. I hoped that being nearly six months old that the chances were good the fawns would survive. I am thankful Daisy still has Spirit and Heidi. I noticed after Spirit lost Willow, she took to grooming Heidi and Dancer a good bit – being the big sister. I’m sure she felt the loss of Dancer too.

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  6. Lori, I swear the photos of the deer are the best yet. Such clarity, and personality, all going about the business of life.
    Your description of the chase, for all it’s excitement, drama, and danger, allow us all to really understand this time of year.
    Great post!

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    1. Thank you, Dom. I just loved Dancer’s gentle, laid-back ways. She was so endearing with Daisy too… a real mama’s girl. You do such beautiful work sketching and painting the deer. Your talent is a real gift Dom. We are so proud to display your paintings in our home!

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    1. I know Fran… but there are still happy times too. I wish you were here having a cup of something hot on the back porch with me this morning, watching Daisy and Spirit being chased by a young buck. The girls seem to be enjoying the chase! I haven’t seen Heidi but she could be chased as well, since she’s a robust young girl… kind of like Spirit was last year. Next spring we will see a whole new set of fawns in the woodlands! 🙂

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      1. Pretty soon you are going to have your own deer pack on the property and they will start to see off anything that comes near. Just wait till one of your girls has a buck! How interesting is this going to be but I am still sad about poor little Dancer 😦

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        1. I know, I’m sad too. It takes me a long time to get over these losses. As for little bucks, I think they can be quite troublesome. Males are just wired differently. We are already seeing that with Mr. Gambini the squirrel. Boys tend to be more wild and destructive!! I can’t tell you the number of fruit trees we’ve lost when the bucks “rub” the slender young trees (during the rut) to put scent on them, and the tree is stripped of bark! And bucks offer no protection to the does. They are really just the sperm donors! 🙂

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  7. Hi Lori, I am sorry to learn of the loss of Dancer. Even though the deer are wild and you accept the ways of nature, it is natural to feel sad when one of ‘your’ herd disappears. I hope Daisy, Spirit and Heidi survive the coming winter with its attendant challenges. I know your feeding station makes life easier for the wildlife in your area.

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    1. Thank you for kind words, Margaret. It has now been three days that Heidi is missing. I don’t know what to think – if it is a hunter, a predator, the rut activity? But you are right, we accept the ways of nature and of Universe. It is not always easy to accept but there is also so much to be grateful for. I saw Daisy and Spirit mutual grooming this morning in the snow – our first snow of the season. It was a beautiful sight to see in the early morning light. Regardless of their lives in the wild, I am so grateful for the experience of the deer and the messages they have brought all of us.

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  8. Beautifully written and photographed – as usual. While my initial reaction was it would be a ‘boys would be boys’ and ‘women would be themselves’ piece, it took a sudden turn. It’s sad to see a dear one just disappear and even more when there is no closure. As I said earlier, your book would be quite a hit! You have so much to share!!

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    1. Mandeep, I believe I need you prodding me about that book! I seem to get sidetracked with so many things. One of these days I will feel the urge to write about Daisy. You are right, her story should be told! 🙂

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  9. Beautiful photos of the deer, Big Sister! I am always amazed how you manage to capture their little personalities with your camera. I’m so sad for you all that Dancer is lost, and after having lost Willow so recently as well. Life does have a way of moving on, but we are forever changed by the moments that they pranced about the woodlands, and also upon our hearts. I love you, and your wild(life) heart.

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    1. Oh, thank you Jules. I am thankful Daisy has been so gracious to share her wild babies with us, and for the moments we are allowed to interact with them. It cannot always be the way we want, but you are right – the connection forever changes us.

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      1. Hello Celi. I know, I think of your Daisy, Mr. Pink and the lost hens, and so many others who are no longer with us. Much of that still doesn’t seem right but there are messages, thoughts and whispers of importance to consider. It has taken me a long time to get to this point of pondering the difficulties of loss. But I have to have hope that all of these connections with Nature are not all for naught. There must be meaning and purpose in every relationship we have. Blessings to you this Thanksgiving, dear Celi.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I have seen that program a few times! Quite educational and interesting! I love many of the PBS videos on wildlife, and I have a few of their DVD’s as well. 🙂

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  10. So sorry about Dancer. I would be heart breaking to think that she is dead, but it is a very cruel way of life. At least you do have a lot of good photos to remember her by. As painful as that could be, there will be times that you can smile and laugh and relive her antics. It has been cold and drizzly here. Very little snow. I am not ready for winter. Take care and keep up the good posts. I get to them eventually. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. As you’ll read on, we ended up losing all three of the new fawns this year. I think a couple of other local does also lost their fawns. Only one little button buck remains of this year’s group. Daisy and Spirit still have each other. It has been drizzling here too and overcast for a week now. I am ready for some sun and warmer temperatures. I’m not very good at tolerating the cold temps of winter!

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