During the month of December, it was common to find me traveling west in the electric buggy to the pecan orchard’s old river channel area where a large, globe-shaped elm tree stood. After exhausting the supply of cat brier on our original ten acres, I took to sawing down larger elm limbs for Emma and Ronnie deer to nibble on. Deer often eat woody browse, dead plants, and fallen leaves in the winter months, when few greens can be found. In my quest to keep Emma and Ronnie’s diet interesting, all of the elm trees on the Ten Acre Ranch had also been given a good trim by the end of November. With that, it became necessary to travel further to find just the right limbs. Daisy deer taught me much about deer edibles over all of the years I followed her around in the woodlands, so I was a bit proud of myself for knowing exactly what Emma and Ronnie deer preferred to eat.
Though I was en-route to perform a chore, I really enjoyed traveling through the pecan orchard property each day. Off towards the river, I could hear the Canadian geese honking, and often great flocks of them flew over the orchard, heading southeast. I also spotted all sorts of other winter birds along the way and, lately, I had noticed a barred owl in the area. As I rambled along, I often saw it take flight from trees near me, and I wondered if it was some kind of sign. The barred owl calls could often be heard in the woodlands at night, but it was rare to see one in daylight since they are so well camouflaged. And for many weeks on these travels to the west end of the property, I would spot various coyotes along the old river channel area. The big male was the one I saw most frequently, and I admit, of all the coyotes, I disliked seeing him most of all. He was the leader of the pack. If I was just a photographer or an observer, I might have found him beautiful and intriguing. I might even appreciate his movement and watchfulness. But as the mother of Emma and Ronnie deer, soon to be released to the wild, I viewed the coyotes as a threat, in fact, they had been villains in my mind for a long time. For most of last year, the pecan orchard and woodland area had been devoid of opossums, rabbits, skunks, and foxes. And worst of all, we were not seeing deer in the area anymore. This past summer, after Daisy’s twins were taken by coyotes, she too disappeared, and has been missing since September. So of course, I blamed the coyotes. FD shot one crossing the pecan orchard this past autumn, and I admit I felt no remorse for having taken it out. It was one less female adding to the already over-populated coyote population, and one less predator around to kill fawns. Each day that I drove past the carcass – which by the way, no other coyote bothered nor even the vultures would touch, I felt nothing but relief that it was dead.
By late December, I had begun the work of cutting wood and burning debris from fallen limbs and branches in the pecan orchard. While walking much of the area around the massive trees, I made gruesome discoveries in the grasses. Deer hair lay scattered in tufts throughout the orchard, but mostly along the east fence line. I also found deer legs, along with a greasy spine and a shoulder blade, strewn about from the east border to the old river channel. Every set of bones and body parts I discovered, had been chewed on and appeared to be from recent kills. And they appeared to be that of young deer. This did not make sense. The only deer I had seen in our area in the last year had been adults. None of the fawns born this past spring to does that I was familiar with had survived the first month or two of life. Only one split-eared yearling that we knew of was still in the area from the year before, and we have seen her with two adult does a few times on the game camera since finding the bones. So we found it odd that so many young deer body parts were found strewn all over the orchard. As we continued to work in the orchard, we found still more deer hair, bones, and coyote scat.
And for that reason, we postponed releasing Emma and Ronnie after deer hunting season ended. I felt very uncomfortable turning them loose with so many coyote sightings in the last months and now, finding all of these deer bones and coyote scat seemed to be signs that it was not the right time to free them. So, we doubled our efforts to eradicate the coyotes on our property by asking a friend to help us. But unfortunately, the results were dismal over the next few weeks. Our friend said he was not seeing tracks or scat to indicate coyotes were frequenting the area along the old river channel. Considering their range of travel, he suspected they had moved on to another area where prey was more plentiful for the moment. I suppose this should have brought me comfort, but what of all of these body parts that kept surfacing?
Then one day recently, FD and our brother-in-law were cutting wood and clearing an area along the east fence line where a dead pecan tree had fallen. There, they made a discovery that explained what had probably been taking place since October, when hunting season began. Lots of deer hair lay scattered in various spots all along the east fence line. Our brother-in-law found a leg that appeared to have been sawed in two at one end. And FD found the skull of a young buck with the antler area sawed off. With this discovery, FD wondered if one of the neighbors was a hunter who might be doing his own meat processing, and decided to toss the discards over the fence into the pecan orchard. This of course would lure any meat-eating varmint onto our property. Most likely, coyotes were migrating from the river to our property, grabbing various parts of the discarded carcass, and carrying them off to individual spots in the orchard to chew on.
As I worked in the orchard this past week, I kept an eye out for coyotes or signs of their presence. But I did not see any coyotes in the distance as I had in months past, and I found no fresh scat – only old, weathered coyote scat in a few locations under the magnificent pecans. And for the first time in months, I saw a few hoof prints along the buggy path to the deer feeders. Maybe now that deer hunting season is over, there will be none of the neighbor’s discards for the coyotes to feast on. Maybe the coyotes have indeed, moved on to another area. I hope so. And the fact that deer are returning to the area gives me hope that Emma and Ronnie may be able to tag along with others of their kind. I am hopeful that deer and all sorts of small mammals will once again flourish in our area.
We will be releasing Emma and Ronnie to the wild this weekend. And this deer mama plans to be working in the pecan orchard all spring, hoping to catch a glimpse of her young fawns from time to time.
© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…