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Stinkin' Up the Place

Friday, January 18, 2019

Who goes there? 

 My friend Geoff Heeter introduced me to the concept of spread in antlers. A buck has to be 31/2 or 4 1/2 years old before the antlers spread beyond the span of the ears. I think I have that right. You can see that, while this one has a high crown and long tines, the antlers still spread no further than the ears do. This is not something I've picked up on before. I mean, I knew a wide spread meant an older buck, but I didn't know the numbers. Thank you, Heets.

I didn't know at first what brought them, these bucks, walking proudly through the meadow of another gray morning. All I knew was to praise them and start shooting, or rather, clicking, gathering my trophies, my snippets, my memories.

First was a proud, high-crowned eight-point. Not particularly massive or aged, like the brace of beauties in my last post, but so beautiful nonetheless. Any buck is a great treat for me.

He seemed to be looking for someone.

By and by he slipped into the honeysuckle and sumac tangle, taking a well-worn deer road down into the woods.

Following a hunch, I hugged my big lens and skittered through the house to the studio. There, I found my little friend Flag, Ellen's daughter peeking out from behind the birch trunks. Flag was born in the spring of 2016, with a twin brother named Pinky, so she's 2 1/2 years old now. 

 And it became apparent that Flag was, in hunter's parlance, "stinkin' up the place." It appeared she was still in estrous, on December 9. She must be really fast to have escaped getting knocked up in the first rut.

On another hunch, I peeked out the west window of the studio and whoa! There was a buck I call TinyTine, lurking around the fallen pine in the backyard.  TinyTine is a ten point, but just barely. See that tiny tine on the beam of the near antler? That's his claim to 10 point fame. I've been following him for several months. I see him regularly at a corn feeder about a mile to the east of my house. And now here he was right in my backyard! His other nickname is CornHog.

Flag knew when to get gone. She moved down toward the meadow, peeing as she went.

TinyTine, you'd best get going.

 TinyTine followed, checked that stuff out.

Mmm. I love the smell of estrous in the morning. See his partly opened mouth? He's doing flehmen, passing the scent through his vomeronasal, or Jacobson's organ, assaying it for hormones. This area is a patch of chemoreceptive cells in the nasal cavity, just above the hard palate. TinyTine is huffing Flag's urine, passing it through his Jacobson's organ, testing it.

Flag must've passed his test. After all, it's #flehmenfriday. The chase was on.

This will be a several-part post about one magical December morning. I'll post as I can, when I can find a couple hours to rub together. It's a challenge to even get the photos sorted and edited, much less write them up; it's taken days. But I don't want to lose this morning. I want to remember it.


Saturday, January 5, 2019


 Buck doing buck things. Which involves neck stretching, thrashing at vegetation, poking twigs into their pre-orbital scent glands, peeing, snorting, pawing and facing off.

 Refugium: A safe place. A place you can go to get away from everything else that's going on. Indigo Hill has always been a refuge, for animals and for us. I keep this blog as a refuge for me, for you. But even Indigo Hill can be compromised, invaded.

I have been holding these photos since I took them October 22, 2018. I didn't want anyone to see them and know that these beautiful bucks were frequenting our meadow. I held them until after hunting season at Thanksgiving, and then I planned to hold onto them until after the two-day gun season December 15 and 16.  No way was I going to blow these big boys' cover with a blog post while men were about with guns. And then on December 16 all hell broke loose in our world, and it has taken me until now to even begin to emerge and remember who I was and the things I was doing before that, to remember the joy these animals brought me. I remember as through a fog or a screen. My joy has been badly beaten. It's still there, the way a pilot light glows blue in the back of the oven, waiting. Wishing to burst back into flame, knowing that isn't going to happen.

I don't want to write about hell. Screw that. There's enough hell in this world. I want to remember looking out the window and seeing this enormous eight-point beast shuffling up the meadow margin.

And because that wasn't enough, along came a nine-point monster to complete the picture.

Such incredibly beautiful, fine, mature animals. Their racks are high and their tines are very long. Surely the finest brace of bucks I've been blessed to see here.

I knew the moment I saw them that I'd tell no one, show no one their magnificence. They were too beautiful to share. And sharing them during hunting season could get them shot.

I grinned as I watched them showing off for each other, and for any doe who happened to be peeking from the woods. They tried to moosh their scent glands up as high into the brush as possible, to say that a big one passed here.

Then they drew close together and my heart almost burst.

The span of their antlers seemed to go on forever. They looked almost like mule deer, or elk.  I wondered if they were brothers. Twins, even. What a thought.  Looking back on them, they're but apparitions to me. I can hardly believe they were ever here, hardly believe I had them in my lens, my heart pounding out of my chest.

 I've no idea if they survived hunting season, but chances are better than usual. It was miserably wet all week, with cold driving rain, and the hunter numbers were greatly suppressed. I can hope they escaped. I can hope they hid in this refugium we offer. And wouldn't it be wonderful to trip over one of those antlers some gray February day? To see tines sticking up out of the sere grass? To pick up a shed antler and marvel at its weight, smoothness, and beauty? To bring it home and add it to my basket of bloodless trophies? I can dream.  I did dream, and my dream looked like this.

 Click on this photo to see them all at proper size and definition.

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