Exasperated, I carefully made my way back up the slope, watching behind me as I made the ascent to the house. Foolishly, I had gotten a little too far away from the protection of the buggy and left myself wide open as a target. Just the day before, I had been working on a little weeding, bent over and not paying attention to my surroundings, and Emma clobbered me on the hip with her hoof. I knew she was just trying to get my attention, but those hooves pack a punch and they are sharp! Now, I had other considerations to make where Ronnie deer was concerned.
A year ago, Ronnie and Emma were fuzzy little fawns, with winter coats emerging for the first time. As orphaned deer, they were safe in a large pen, and each day I foraged in the woods to provide them with good, local nutrition. With all I was doing to prepare them, I was confident they would be healthy and strong enough to be on their own once we released them after hunting season. And Ronnie surprised us when, as only a six-month-old, “button-head” buck, he developed two small, but hard, antlers. I attributed this phenomenon to the good nutrition he was getting, as it is not at all common for a fawn buck to develop hard antlers. It was evident too, that Ronnie knew how to use his little antlers. He rubbed his forehead against everything, and liked to lower his head and gently butt things straight on. Emma soon tired of his antics, and often hoofed him off. I, too, grew tired of getting butted in the leg or rear end. It was simply annoying for the most part. FD did not mind playing “the antler game” in the evenings after work, but it was clear Ronnie wanted to spar any time one of us entered the pen. Finally, I took the wire handle off an old, plastic bucket, and Ronnie used the bucket as a sparring partner. At least, it helped divert his attention while I put feed out, or scattered acorns, as everything seemed to be a target for Ronnie’s tiny antlers.
This summer, we were quite surprised when Ronnie’s velvet antlers blossomed into eight points. A rack of that size is a very impressive set of antlers for a yearling buck. Ronnie and Emma’s friend, Spike, on the other hand, clearly had a birth defect, or had suffered an injury, since he had only one full antler with three points, and a short stub of a single point on the other side. Other than observing Ronnie and Spike, I did not have any photos or video of other bucks for comparison of antler development, but it was evident all around that most deer had flourished over the spring and summer months. Even the does and fawns that we had seen on game camera video in the orchard seemed to be stocky and healthy looking. I knew that having had favorable weather conditions and ample rain this year, vegetation and browse had flourished in the area, providing all wildlife with plenty of nourishment.
One evening last week, FD noticed Ronnie’s velvet was cracking. Tiny droplets of blood oozed from the antler pedicles. Sure enough, by the next morning, Ronnie had shed most of the velvet from his antlers. That morning, I found him with a long string of bloody velvet hanging from one antler, and the hardened bone on both sides had a reddish hue. I had seen this same bloody mess on a wild buck a few years back, so I was not surprised at how awful it appeared. Early in September (at least in Oklahoma), antler growth is generally complete in whitetail bucks. A sudden rise in testosterone triggers a shutdown of the blood supply to the velvet, which results in the velvet dying. At this point, the velvet is shed rather quickly. Ronnie’s was mostly gone within fourteen hours. With the increase in testosterone, it was easy to see how thrashing my shrubs and rubbing small branches helped to rid Ronnie of the cracking and loosened tissue. I also noted that he seemed annoyed at one last swinging hunk of attached velvet. After watching him attack more of my shrubs, I finally pulled it off for him. For some reason, this gentle tug on my behalf must have made Ronnie think I was game to do a little sparring! I quickly realized he wanted to tussle, so I made my way back to the safety of the back porch. Soon, I saw him mosey off to the line of sand cherry shrubs north of our house, where he began whacking away at their tender shoots.
By the end of that day, Ronnie had demolished two of my sand cherries. He then whacked away at my one-year-old crepe myrtles, and he thrashed the blackberry canes all along the edge of the pasture. The next morning, I found him rubbing and sparring against a pile of limbs and branches in the pecan orchard. And now, when FD arrives home from work most evenings, Ronnie emerges from the canyon, trotting up the slope with his head down, ready to play the antler game. It was cute when he was just a fuzzy little fawn… but as a yearling buck with eight sharp points, he is certainly a force to be reckoned with!
Just a few days before, Spike seemed to dominate the gentle sparring challenges and hoofing matches. Now, Ronnie and his very sharp eight-point antlers, seems to give him the upper hand!
© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…