A Force to be Reckoned With

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.

We were surprised that fawn Ronnie developed two hard antlers last winter.

As a fawn, Ronnie loved to play “The Antler Game” with FD.

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.

This year, ample rain and favorable temperatures produced lush plants and vigorous browse for the deer to feed on.

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.

I found Ronnie thrashing all about the morning he had shed most of his antler velvet.
One long shred of velvet dangled along Ronnie’s face, irritating him.
He tried everything to rid himself of the bloody dangle.
And still, it hung just out of reach!
Later, I found Ronnie rubbing away on a pile of branches and limbs.
Spike shed his velvet just a couple of days after Ronnie.
A few days later, the antlers look like whitened bone, and the points were sharp!

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!

Emma knows to stay a bit clear of Ronnie and his sharp antlers. I hope she is prepared to do a lot of running in the next month when the rut starts up!

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


22 thoughts on “A Force to be Reckoned With

    1. We hope he simply enjoys himself this year, Ellen. He’s a small buck, but maybe he will have a chance at a few young does (maybe Emma?). He sure is magnificent with those beautiful antlers!

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    1. Ronnie is sweet and he simply wants to do as he’s always done – play the antler game. I know though, that with the testosterone increasing as the rut approaches, he won’t be thinking gentle like he did as a fawn. I am surprised too that he and Spike have stayed around, though I think lactating does in the area (one very pregnant doe just now delivered which is very late in the season) are hoofing off everything and likely the trio finds safety here. Mother does can be very protective and ferocious!

      It has been my call not to put collars on. With so many coyotes in the area still, I think it is best to leave them off. I know there is risk of being hunted, and there is little to do about that. At least hunting is illegal from here to the river – about a half mile away. But beyond that, I cannot protect them. I do hike along the river during the rut (wearing my blaze orange) and I do report illegal activity to the game warden. This county is bad with poaching… but I think mostly they are after the big boys and not so interested in silly yearlings.

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  1. I find this antler business to be amazing. I just can’t imagine walking around with all that on my head! We had an old elk out at the pond last year, and I swear, his rack was as big as two adirondack chairs. He looked both majestic and beleaguered. Hope Ronnie will get to be an old guy too!

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    1. That is my hope for Ronnie too, Monica. I also hope that by next year he hooks up with a herd of more mature bucks and becomes reclusive like the old fellas become. Being unseen is why they manage to live so long.

      I cannot imagine carrying around those antlers either. Emma and Ronnie have learned to work around them. I put out a bucket of corn yesterday for them to snack on since Spike was holding the feeder down below hostage. Ronnie knew just how to work the bucket, tilting his head. Emma nosed in, careful to keep clear of Ronnie’s antlers. I suppose one gets used to such glorious head embellishments! 😀

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  2. Now I understand why the buck that was swimming in my marina looked the way he did. Looking more closely at the photos I have, I’m pretty sure that he was shedding velvet, too. I had been afraid that he’d injured himself, but now I don’t think that was the case.

    It’s always a concern, isn’t it? Adopt the cute and cuddly wild animal, and eventually the strength develops, or the hormones kick in, or whatever, and it’s a whole new ball game. It’s going to be interesting to see how things develop — but my goodness, what a handsome fellow he is!

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    1. Oh! I meant to tell you. I’ve been finding piles of scat I couldn’t identify down at the marina. I know nutria, and the various birds and such, but I just couldn’t figure out what I was seeing. Finally, one of the guys who works there told me. They’ve been picking up river otters around there. I’d heard that there had been sightings of them at night, but I’ve never seen one. When the water rose, the were able to get on the docks and leave their little calling cards.

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      1. Linda, I cannot say I have ever seen a river otter! I find the beavers around here quite interesting. The tail slapping on the water is often deafening… it’s hard to believe they have such strength in a tail. I’m sure it has more to do with communication but I’d curious about why they do it.

        Many mammals like to leave an obvious “calling card”. Again, I think it’s all about communication! 😀

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    2. Ronnie is a sweet and handsome fellow, but I also know he’s unpredictable too. This morning I caught Spike running off a little fawn down in the bottom. I never saw the mother doe so I worry the little one had gotten away from her. Anyway, Spike seemed to have a mean streak. It’s the testosterone I’m sure.

      I looked again at your photos, and I think too it was probably ready to shed velvet. The timing certainly would have been spot on.

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  3. Oh my goodness. Do be careful with those two bucks. You can be trampled during rutting season. I read of a man somewhere in Texas that was killed by a buck. With Ronnie’s impressive rack he will be a target for hunters, Have you thought about putting the orange collars on the two bucks especially Ronnie? I know you think the collars get in the way of the deer protecting them selves from predators but….

    Nice pics here. They always enhance your story so much. Love them.

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    1. Hi Yvonne. I made the call not to put collars on the deer this time. We saw on a couple of different occasions that Daisy was attacked by predators and decided from wounds and injury to her neck and back that it was very possible the collar made it easy for coyotes or a bobcat or something to nab her.

      We have heard similar stories of bucks goring people with those antlers. I really think before long, Ronnie and Spike will set out to search for a territory they can each call their own. The big bucks will dominate the better areas with does, but smaller bucks can find some girls too. I really don’t look for either Ronnie or Spike to stick around. Emma will stay, like Daisy did. At least that’s my thinking.

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    1. He certainly is… and I am rather glad to see he’s getting the upper hand on Spike. Ronnie will need to toughen up a lot… there are lots of big fellas out there who will run him off or hurt him if he’s not clever.

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        1. Ha ha! I am sure Emma will pick whoever suits her best. She’s a confident girl… so different than Daisy deer was. I have not monitored bucks in the area, but I am sure there are more than just Ronnie and Spike. She may choose a different fella altogether!

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    1. The urge to spar and dominate will increase as the rut goes on. I just hope he has the stamina to deal with all that he will have to endure during the next four months. It’s a grueling time for bucks, and he’s such a small fella.

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    1. Thank you, Audrey. I learn a lot too, this having been the first buck we’ve raised. Even Emma has shown us different tendencies than we saw with Daisy. I had always heard that bucks could be difficult to raise, but I do not think it’s so much about that first year. It is this first rut that things change and can be dangerous. Just like with teenage kids… those darned hormones!! 😀 You wouldn’t know a thing or three about that, would you?

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