We released Daisy deer to roam free and wild in January of 2012. Because she was a lone fawn, I still spent most mornings accompanying her on walks through the woodland below our home. Raising a single fawn had been worrisome for me, as deer are herd animals, and fawns are used to the company of their mothers and siblings as they mature. Even as yearlings, deer tend to find companionship with their mothers or other groups of adult does and offspring. Daisy had tried to become part of the local herd but, time after time, I watched older does hoof her off. So to keep her company, I often made time to walk with her for an hour or two each day. And, when she went missing for more than a day, as she occasionally did, I worried and took off looking for her, just like a real deer mother would do.
After finishing one of our morning walks in late June of 2012, Daisy and I had a close encounter with one of the older does who frequented the nearby woodlands. I had just sat down to rest on a downed tree trunk near the feeders below our home, and was watching Daisy sauntering back my way after having a big drink of water from the wildlife tub. Suddenly, I heard snorting from not far off, and saw a magnificent, large doe standing in the willow patch at the edge of the pecan orchard just north of us. This big doe was slowly making her way towards us, stomping in alert with each step. The closer she got, the more I feared for myself. I knew Daisy could run if those hooves came flying at us, but what about me? I could never run that fast up the slope to the safety of my home.
I knew this was a mother deer by the size of her udder, and had seen plenty of videos of protective mother does clubbing off would-be predators like dogs or small mammals. As she neared me, I lowered my head and shoulders, curling into a bit of a ball from my sitting position, and avoiding eye contact. I was scared, but Daisy’s presence kept me calm. Daisy simply stood near me, watching the big doe. As the doe circled towards the feed and water, stomping and snorting the entire time, I managed a few photographs. Though frightened, I felt a strange kind of adrenaline rush, as it was obvious this big doe was to be revered and respected as a mother, and I knew most wild mothers would never be curious or brave enough to approach a human.
Deer often frequented the woodlands below our home but, while I marveled at their beauty and enjoyed seeing them so close by, until my encounter with Scarlet, I had not observed any of them long enough to recognize them individually. I named the big doe Scarlet after noting a large, fresh scar on her upper, left haunch. After that first meeting, I noticed Scarlet frequenting the feeder and water tub several times during daylight hours, and deduced she must be hiding and nursing fawns nearby and needed the nourishment. Sure enough, it was not long before Scarlet began bringing her fawns along with her when she visited the feeding area. At first, Scarlet was very protective of the fawns and would not allow Daisy anywhere near them, or them near Daisy. Finally, Scarlet did accept Daisy into her fold that summer, but there was purpose in this relationship, as I often found Daisy babysitting for Scarlet’s fawns in the heat of the day. When Scarlet returned for her little charges, she permitted Daisy to follow a distance behind as Scarlet led the procession on a short outing.
The following year when Daisy had her own fawn, Spirit, Scarlet allowed them into the fold again, but it was apparent that Daisy and Spirit were the underlings to Scarlet and her offspring. A couple of years later, I saw Daisy raise up and challenge Scarlet. Eventually, Daisy was able to defend her own territory in the woodland and often hoofed Scarlet away from the feeders. Still, they respected each other in the herd. And, just a couple of years ago, I noticed an older doe following Scarlet and her fawns. It was apparent after observing them a few times that perhaps this older doe had vision problems. She was slow and easily spooked. I observed Scarlet allowing this older doe to feed while she gently hoofed the little ones away and waited for the old gal to finish. Could it be that she also cared for the elderly? I wondered if the old girl was Scarlet’s mother or a sister perhaps?
Last year, I did not see Scarlet at all. But of course, I might not have paid much attention since I was a deer mother again, raising orphaned fawns, Emma and Ronnie. Daisy brought her twins by the deer pen often, and I was elated thinking maybe Daisy would take on my little charges at some point after their release. Then, in late summer after the loss of both her own fawns, Daisy disappeared too. After that, I did not think about Scarlet until this summer when I was looking at photographs of all of the new fawns being raised at the west end of the pecan orchard property. In an area we call “the nursery” we had seen two does raising twins, and finally another doe delivered late-season triplets. It was not until I looked closely at a photograph of the mother of the triplets, leading her fawns through the canyon area of our property, that I realized it was Scarlet. What I found to be strange was that the does, who usually run every deer and mammal out of the area where they choose to raise their babies, seemed to be friendly with each other. This made me wonder if I had been wrong about mothers being territorial. Later, I observed the older fawns babysitting the triplets. Usually, they were not all together, but one older fawn watching one of the triplets.
FD and I believe Scarlet is at least eight years old now. Throughout the summer and fall, we observed this amazing mama raise her triplets in the nursery area of the west end of the orchard, and continue to hide them in the pecan orchard and woodland area of our property. And now, with winter here, we often see her with two of her fawns getting nourishment at the feeding station below our home (unfortunately, it is likely one of the triplets did not survive). And just the other morning, we observed Scarlet and her fawns at the feeder, along with two other does and their fawns. As usual, Scarlet appeared to be large and in charge – still the matriarch of the woodlands.
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