Scarlet Doe – Matriarch of the Woodlands

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.

My first encounter with Scarlet. I could feel the vibration of her stomping hooves as she neared the log I was sitting on!

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?

This is the summer of 2013 when Daisy and Spirit were allowed to join up with Scarlet and her fawns.
Scarlet and her twins back in 2013. This is the fallen tree I cowered on at our first meeting!
Summer of 2013. Daisy and Spirit submit with heads down, to Scarlet and her offspring.
As a yearling, Daisy often babysat for Scarlet’s fawns.
Scarlet returns after an outing to check on her baby and Daisy, the babysitter.
Scarlet sure was mean to Daisy back in the early days. Daisy bore a lot of missing hair marks, bruises and cuts from hoof beatings – many from Scarlet.

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.

Autumn 2017. An older (buff) fawn watching over one of Scarlet’s triplets (spotted).
Autumn 2017. An older fawn babysits for another of Scarlets triplets.
This is a recent autumn photo of Scarlet with the two remaining of this year’s 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.

Autumn 2017. Any time we drove through the nursery area of the west end of the orchard, Scarlet was never far away from her babies.

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


44 thoughts on “Scarlet Doe – Matriarch of the Woodlands

  1. Isn’t it reassuring when a mystery is solved. Your photos are so remarkable, as are you, Lori. I have learned so much from you over the years. Merry Christmas and may peace and light be the undercurrent of all your days.

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  2. Wow, I didn’t know a doe could have triplets. She must have been enormous! I like how you described your encounter with her. I’ve been pretty scared myself a few times when I’ve come close to a deer on accident while out for a walk in the woods. They seem so gentle and skittish, but up close you realize they are large animals with a lot more muscle than a human.

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    1. You’ve got that right, Monica. Scarlet was enormous and did not deliver until the first of September which is quite late season here. Most fawns are born late May through June. FD and I watched game camera activity weekly and could not believe how big she was as each week passed. It made me wonder if she’s had triplets in the past. I have read that even quadruplets are possible with white-tail deer, though not common.

      That first meeting with Scarlet truly had me shaking in my boots! I kept thinking all I could do if she came after me was to squash myself as close to the base of that tree trunk (there was just a bit of space between the trunk and the ground) and keep my back to her. Fortunately she just scared the crap out of me with her stomping. Even as comfortable as I am with fawns and yearlings, I know they can be unpredictable and dangerous. Ronnie really had me worried with those antlers of his. As much as I’d love to see him again, I worry that his playfulness as an adult could be very dangerous.

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    1. It’s quite possible she only keeps two fawns with her at a time, and the third with other fawns, yearlings or does. It’s also possible during the confusion of the rut that one got lost on its own and has taken off with other does. I’ve often wondered if that was what happened with some of Daisy’s older fawns during the rut. Now that I am aware that does take on other known does fawns, it’s entirely possible. But we still have the coyotes, and I never feel very comfortable with them around. We’ve seen them on game camera footage too. I find it utterly amazing that with coyotes traipsing through the “nursery” area that so many does raised young in that area this year. It just goes to show, we cannot know or predict anything for sure.

      Happy holidays and much love to you too!! I’m enjoying your latest book when I find a little time to read. I might have to order all of the others now!! Ha ha!

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    1. What a grand compliment, Steve! I hope I have many years to observe and study the white-tailed deer. And I hope I see Daisy, Emma and Ronnie again someday.

      Happy Christmas wishes to you too!

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  3. Hi Lori,

    I hope you’re well and I wish you and yours peace and love for the holidays and the new year.
    The Great Deer Mother was revered in ancient times, before the patriarchal religions took over ….

    Bises Henrie

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    1. Holiday greetings to you too, Henrie! I loved the video. I had never heard this story – though I should have, given my Scandinavian heritage. I am completely in awe of these deer mothers and respect their presence in the woodlands.

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  4. Hi Lori. I was just thinking about Christmas images and themes while my dear is at church. Though Scarlet’s adventures may not seem related, I saw a connection.

    In our local newspaper there is a collection of top photographs for the year. The most haunting is of Ashley Johnston, mother of three and six months pregnant with her fourth. She is standing in her kitchen shooting herion with a man friend. Such a stark contrast with the mythical stable where Mary is supposed to have delivered God to us. Your story, along with the beautiful photographs provided another perspective. All three together help me understand something I had forgotten (I learned it from my own mother) — about the maternal force in a harsh world. I can see better how God might be revealed through the feminine element in nature, despite adverse or challenging cumstances

    And now, my dear is back, but before coming inside from the snow and 20° weather, she is filling the bird feeder out back, nurturing life . She tells me about a family she saw this morning in an empty parking lot. It looked as though they were sleeping in their car. No room for them anywhere.

    Some important things came together for me this morning, thanks in great part to your post. Coincidence? I wonder. The pecan orchard often inspires thought. I always enjoy visiting.

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    1. P.S., Forgot an important detail. Ashley has been trying hard to kick the habit. Her methadone clinic had been unavailable to her when the photograph was taken.

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    2. It’s lovely when thoughts and sightings speak to us and we draw some kind of message or realization from it all. To me, there are no coincidences. These things are meant to be, my friend. Thank you for sharing all that “came together” for you this morning.

      Your weather certainly is cold. We don’t have it quite that bad here, but we do have colder than usual temperatures for this time of year. I understand this coming weekend will bring ice and a little snow. The snow is a novelty in these parts… but like everyone else feels, ice is never a good thing – unless you’re a photographer!

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  5. Through your photography and stories I vicariously live those experiences. I’ll always be back for more. Keep doing what you’re doing. Lots of people are addicted like me.

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  6. Love the feeling of entering into such a intimate and personal world of these beautiful deer Lori. Taking time out to get to know nature is such a rewarding past time. It really makes me feel for those deer that are hunted in our nearby bush or end up as roadkill. Our kangaroo visitors have been greatly reduced since a large cull on neighbouring properties. It’s such a challenge trying to reconcile our land use with the animals that were here before us.
    I trust you and all the family had a blessed Christmas and you are looking forward to more adventures as a deer mum in 2018. Many thanks for sharing, it’s been such a pleasure.

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    1. It is difficult, isn’t it? I am thrilled to give these orphans we raise, a chance at life, and I am always happy when they find their way into the local herd, but I know too that life in the wild is hard and they are a hunted species, and of course there are busy roads in the area and accidents happen often. I cannot do much about other folks, but I do my part to be a good steward of the land and to the animals.

      FD and I had a nice Christmas with friends this year. I hope yours was a blessed holiday. We shall see what happens in 2018 with the deer… and the orchard!

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      1. A very Happy New Year to you as well. Are you getting the extreme winter weather? We had a mini tornedo go through our property on Thursday which was scary and the mess it made was unbelievable with branches down and trees everywhere. We will be clearing up for several weeks but we are OK. Celebrated NY a bit too much last night so write a post about the storm later in the week. Glad you had a good Christmas. Ours was with friends as well. All the best for the coming year.

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        1. Happy New Year to you too! It’s been cold but not nearly as bad as some regions of the US. We know all too well about damage and cleanup from a tornado. I am so glad you are OK!! It surely will be a lot of work and effort to clean things up and get back to some normalcy. Did you lose any structures? We visited family in Dallas, Texas over the New Year. I wish you all of the best for a wonderful and happy New Year!! Be safe!

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          1. Many thanks. No structural damage to our house and shed thankfully. We did just get our veranda rebuilt in November which was a good thing. But our builder who lives down the road had a tree go through his house and onto his Hilux ute. It was very localised. all the good work we did to be fire ready has been undone. We are trying to clear branches, bark and leaf litter this week. Today is a total Fire Ban with an expected temperature of 41 Celsius degrees so it is a bit hot out there! Anyway, more stuff for my next blog. I’m trying to fit in Christmas and family and study at present. You take care too!

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    1. Thank you, Mandeep. Some of those photos are older – and I can see the age on Scarlet these days. But I sure was in awe of her carrying triplets this spring and summer. She was HUGE, and such a beauty! I hope you have a wonderful new year too! Looks like a mighty blustery and frigid start to 2018 here in the Midwest US. BRR!!

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  7. I’ve read this a couple of times, and the last read was particularly interesting, because I’d heard some detailed discussion on our outdoor show about what the deer are up to both in East Texas and farther south and west.
    One thing that all of the hunters have been commenting on (and complaining about!) is that the deer have become almost entirely nocturnal. They see them on the game cams at night, and they’re frequenting the feeders, but come daylight, they’re just gone. When I hear that, I think about you, and how the safe home you’ve created gives you some very special opportunities to interact with the deer.

    The rut’s still going on in the south, although it’s calming down up in the piney woods. The young bucks seem to be the most active now. When I heard that, you can imagine which “young buck” I thought about! It is good to listen to these “real” hunters talk about their experiences: not only the game they bag, but also their appreciation for being out in the woods. As one likes to say, he’s not as interested in killing as in hunting. Once he gets his meat for the year, he still goes hunting, but even if he has a tag left, he doesn’t necessarily take another deer.

    It’s great to hear the game ranch guys talk about their management techniques, too. They know exactly how many animals are on their land, how many need to be taken, and how they need to move the animals to maintain the land. Some of the best conservationists I’ve run into are hunters and ranch managers. Like you, they know their land, and know the animals — intimately — and they respect both, just as you do. Here’s to a great 2018, filled with happy experiences with land and animals both!

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  8. Thank you, Linda. I wish you adventure and happy times in 2018 too! The arctic temperatures have kept me indoors a good bit this year, but it won’t last long. Winter never sticks around for long in these parts.

    It was good to read your comment about hunters and ranch managers – those who respect the land and the animals that roam it. When I was raising orphaned Daisy, I did a lot of book reading and online research on the Whitetail deer, relying heavily on information written by hunters, in my quest to learn about the world she would roam one day. I was both abhorred and intrigued by what I read. I discovered that while there are a lot of jerks out there, I realized there were countless other hunters who spent a lot of time observing – and for reasons of importance. I found your words quite interesting, “As one likes to say, he’s not as interested in killing as in hunting. Once he gets his meat for the year, he still goes hunting, but even if he has a tag left, he doesn’t necessarily take another deer.” I feel much the same in my search to find deer in our region. Most of the time I just get lucky and happen to be in the right place at the right time, but there is no doubt that if I honed my hunting skills, I could come back with some great photographs. But I know that as much as I’ve learned from following deer for the last seven years, there are still mysteries and oddities I will never understand or have explanations for.

    We have noticed lately that most all mammal activity is nocturnal. Our game cameras show all sorts of nighttime activity, but nothing at all after daybreak. And we seem to be noting a second rut, and as you say, there are many young bucks in the area that we haven’t seen before. Old Scarlet and her fawns are still around, and a couple of other does. And we still see Spike frequently. I suppose many of the deer have moved on into the river valley and beyond. I still hope though, that I see Daisy, Emma and Ronnie again someday. I hope they are living a grand adventure!

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  9. Hi Lori, I am glad I caught up with your deer adventures tonight. It is interesting reading about the characters of your woodlands and the things you are learning about the local wildlife.

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    1. Hello Margaret! There has not been a lot of activity lately, so I’m working off of some photos from earlier in the autumn. I meant to write about Scarlet long ago. She’s truly a wonder.

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  10. I was really touched when I read about the way you connected with Scarlet as one mother to another. I’m specifically referring to the moment when you wrote. “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…: What a beautiful moment.

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    1. Aw, thank you so much! Though I am only a mother to orphaned animals and rescue dogs, I do have a tremendous appreciation for mothers of all walks of life. Scarlet has been around for a long time and I have learned much about her life as a dedicated mother.

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    1. Thank you! We have seen Daisy on game cameras – there is no mistaking that short, stout doe with a notch in her left ear. I’m happy she is back. It seems she travels with a couple of other does – perhaps Scarlet!

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    1. We haven’t seen Daisy in almost two years, but we know she’s around as we have seen her on game cameras in the area. There is no mistaking the short, stout doe with a rip on her left ear. I’m glad she’s doing well. She will be seven years old in May. As for her babies, the only one I know of that lived (we have a terrible predator problem here) is Spirit, and after two years here, I believe she moved on towards the river area. It could be that she returns to the area with the local herd, but I would not know her by sight anymore. We have not seen Emma since October and Ronnie disappeared in November. They took off during the rut so no telling where they might have ended up, or if they’ll return. I hope they are doing well wherever they are!

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      1. Oh that’s great that you know she’s out there, living her life! It’s such a good thing you did, raising them and then letting them go their own way. It must have been hard to do, knowing the dangers that are out there. But a free, wild life is always the best thing for wild animals. I suppose deer are a prey species, so it is inevitable that a number of them won’t make it… the wolves/coyotes (what do you have?) need to eat too I suppose!

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