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Schneakin' Up On Bucks

Sunday, December 9, 2018

 Every morning I get up in the dark. I raise the blinds and go back to bed to write in my journal. I write down my dreams, and then segue into whatever's on my mind. Maybe I plan something, start writing a talk, chew over something that's been bugging me, or just write about what I'd most like to do next. It's a hopeful journal.

Also hopeful is waiting for first light, to see if there's anyone out in the meadow. My heart pounds as the light comes up, especially if I see shapes out there.  On this morning, I saw two shapes in the path not far from the house. One was a pretty buck, and the other I couldn't quite tell. But from the way they were behaving, I knew it was time to suit up and get out there.

I schnuck out the front door, closing it soundlessly, and slunk over behind the Rose of Sharon. The clotheslines made a green cut across the scene, but at least I could sort of see what was going on from here.

 OMG! sparring bucks!

 It didn't look like a very even match to me!

 When they broke up I could see it was an 8 versus a spike. The big boy thought he saw something. I held perfectly still. And amazingly, they went back at it. With those damn green clotheslines still screwing up my shots.

This was not a pitched battle. It almost seemed gentle. Their motions were slow and smooth, without any of the furious pushes or shiftings of position you'd expect if they were really fighting.

The older buck had a beautiful high rack with long tines. I wouldn't call it massive, but it's my favorite kind of rack from an aesthetic viewpoint. I'd about had it with the clotheslines. I decided to go for it. So I waited until they went into another mini-match and then I took a deep breath and schlooped like Napoleon Dynamite across the open lawn. I raced over to the edge of the prairie meadow and buried myself behind the dead stalks of a big gray sunflower, holding my breath and staying down.

Oh so much better! And they never knew I'd done it. All hail testosterone and distracted bucks. From here, I could hear their antlers clicking together. It was so cool, with the sumac on fire behind them and the frost on the grass.

The older buck kept looking around like he sensed the presence of other deer. Maybe there were does around, and he could smell them. He wasn't 100% into the match.

 He could have annihilated the younger buck if he'd wanted to, but instead he just kept politely answering the repeated requests to engage.

You can see from the ear position that the small buck is feeling ornery.

He just kept buggin' the big buck.

I don't fully understand how antler fights work. How they keep from getting their eyes poked out. Especially when you have a tiny set of spikes and you're up against a long tined tree. I liked this next shot. Click on that one. You can see the whites of their eyes. As you can see I was shooting through the sunflowers, and they had no idea I was right there.

It occurred to me that the white throat and belly of a deer must have some powerful social signaling function, beyond the countershading camouflage value.  It's the white flag of surrender, perhaps.

And still that little cuss kept pushing it. Maybe he was practicing, knowing his battles would be for real next fall. It seemed to me quite charitable of the big buck to keep answering his challenges.

It isn't often you get to be present for a sparring match. I took a lot of photos. I'm going to save some for  the next post, because my gosh. A lot of stuff happened next. I felt so lucky to be there. It was as if I'd been given a Cloak of Invisibility.

Postscript: This morning, Dec. 9, I was schneakin' up on bucks from first light until 9 AM. What I was privileged to witness makes this look like child's play, literally. Gonna be a Deery December. Hope you like whitetails! :D xo jz


I'm glad you mentioned blowing them up because the pics are just gorgeous when you blow them up. Great mix of color shades.

There's not much nature to spy on around my house. I'll have to live vicariously through pages like yours!

Any chance the bigger buck was letting the teenager practice? You know--go ahead, junior, I got you on this ... but whatever.

Reminds me of daddy dogs letting the pups "attack."

This was just playful sparring between, perhaps, father and son; most “fighting” we see between deer is playful and relational and there’s typically no mistaking when they mean sounds like there’s another chapter forthcoming with the latter circumstance as a topic

Oddly enough, just moments ago I witness something very similar up on the hill above our house. A spike against another buck maybe a year older than he was (not just spikes, but not much more). Like your case, it seemed more like play than fighting. They were also seriously blocked by tall grasses and the fact that it is SNOWING. But I did try to get some shots of the duel. Fun to see! And a first for me.

Sort of timely… last summer, out of a herd of a dozen+ deer in my neighborhood, I made “friends” with one young buck who would come and take apple slices from my hand, even come when called. Wildlife friends warned me he would disappear when rut season began and might not survive it (but would remember me afterwards if he did survive). I didn’t see him at all for ~2 months and then just a couple days ago, discovered him (I think?) deceased in the woods near where I usually fed him. He’d only been dead a day or two, and I couldn’t see any outward sign of blood or injury, so don’t know what he died of, but couldn’t help but think (at the risk of anthropomorphizing) maybe he got hurt and returned to the one place he thought someone might help him, before he died. Sad.
Anyway, what fantastic creatures deer are!

Oh, how I love your writings on deer. Just last week I was sitting on a crowded subway car in NYC on my way to work, happily reading your older posts about the beautiful doe Jolene and her family. Thank you for giving us glimpses into the lives of such exquisite creatures.

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