SOME NOTES ON THE WHITETAIL
By FLOYD V. AMES
THE common whitetail deer is by far the most numerous of the deer family and being of course more widely distributed furnishes more sport than any other of the so-called big game animals. Thousands of hunters from one end of the country to the other look forward expectantly to the brief period in the fall of the year when they can lay aside for a few days their wonted pursuits and packing their chests and duffle bags seek the old camping ground in fine barren or timber.
It is not the purpose of the author of this article to deal in an extended way with any of these annual hunts but rather to make a few rambling notes of incidents and characteristics of the whitetail which are not so apt to come to the notice of the season hunter as to one who has the opportunity to observe these animals in their woodland abiding places at other seasons of the year.
It is commonly known that deer shed their antlers but one occasionally finds men who have killed more than one old buck who are not entirely convinced that such is the case. I have been asked times without number why, if the bucks shed their horns, that more horns are not found scattered about the woods. There are two reasons both of which are very simple. The antlers are shed for the most part during the week between Christmas and New Years, this period may vary slightly as undoubtedly the quantity of snow and degree of cold have something to do with the matter, but at this time of year the deer are for the most part gathered into the swamps and around lakes and rivers, a large percentage of the horns fall on the ice and of course the following year will be under the water.
I have picked up large numbers of horns, seldom in pairs, however, and the largest number of these I have found on the ice along the edge of lakes and streams. I have seldom picked up a horn in the summer that was not partly eaten by porcupines. Last spring not twenty feet from the door of the camp were some six or eight horns found the previous winter and notwithstanding the fact that porcupines are "persona non grata" hereabouts there remain not enough of the horns to make a knife handle.
Quite often one sees references to swamp bucks, only last deer season I was amused by hearing a description of a swamp buck. The predominating characteristic was the growth of the horns so that the points nearly touched over the eyes of the animal. Now that I know how to distinguish a swamp buck I would be grateful for information as to how one may know a swamp doe. Deer go where the feed is, here at one season, there at another; there are times when the swamps could be combed with fine tooth comb and not a swamp buck found. When the deer are yarded it would be difficult to find anything else.
During the rut it is sometimes a difficult matter to get a deer; when they are changing from the gray to red coat quite the reverse is true. Sometimes it is necessary to speak rough to get them out of the trail. Last summer I met an old doe on a tote road that reminded one of a pet cow. She positively refused to be frightened. When I. tired of talking to her and passed on she was still standing in the same spot contentedly nibbling clover. I have seen towards evening as many as fifteen feeding in the marshes around some little water hole.
I am convinced that for a time after it is born a fawn has no scent. I have seen where wolves passed within twenty feet of a fawn and never noticed it. Appa'rently if the fawn lies still it is safe, but they often jump and run, finish, fawn.
Despite the fact that wolves are on the increase and that more deer are killed by hunters than formerly, they were present in greater number than ever in this region last year. But I do not believe the deer are increasing as undoubtedly the destructive fires west and south caused the deer to drift in this direction.
Of the agencies of destruction the hunters' toll is far the worst, next are predatory animals, wolves and cats. Many are undoubtedly killed by forest fires and large numbers meet death from strange and incredible accidents. Deer do many incomprehensible things; but a day or so ago a strange story was revealed by tracks in the fresh snow not far from camp. A timber wolf was following a last year's fawn up the river, they came up over the Camp II dam onto the pond, the deer legging it for all it could make, the wolf apparently trotting along taking it easy. In the pond are some crooks and turns, the deer left the ice and cut across the projecting necks of land, the wolf kept to the pond. When the deer reached the extremity of the pond it turned and ran back at the wolf, jumping right in his mouth. I have known other instances somewhat similar. Apparently the deer realizing they cannot escape, turn on the wolf. I know of at least one authentic instance where deer, there were probably six or seven in the group, cornered by a wolf in a yard, turned on the wolf and beat him out, the wolf hung around, watched his chance and later caught one of the deer alone.
Quite often the deer pursued by wolves, seek open water where if the wolves follow they can stand them off to some advantage, sometimes they get in swift curents and are drawn under the ice.
Large numbers of deer are drowned every winter. I know of one that fell during deep snow into a water hole made by a diamond drill crew. It could get its forefeet on the edge of the hole but could not climb out so it went round and round till exhausted and drowned.
Others I have known to fall through the ice along boulder strewn rivers; sometimes the ice forms at high water and hangs to the top of the large boulders, the water subsequently lowers and the result is a natural pitfall, for the deer breaking through is unable to get out of the hole though the water may be to shallow to drown it.
The most remarkable accident I have seen, however, occurred to a large fourpoint buck last fall. We were attracted to the scene of the tragedy by the tracks of foxes which were feeding on the carcass.
On the side of a windbroken tree was a lichen which is a delicacy for deer. The buck, to reach the fungus growth which was quite a bit from the ground, put his forefeet against the tree and stood on his hind legs. Before he had finished the titbit his feet must have slipped and one of his front feet caught in a crack which ran down the stub, narrowing, of course, as it neared the bottom. Either the buck couldn't get up again or didn't know enough to do so for there he was, one foot fast in the crack about two feet from the ground.
Some time ago while coming from town along a snowshoe trail I observed a deer, evidently a fawn, by the side of the trail, its head in the snow picking grass, its forefeet busy pawing back the snow. I approached to within some twenty paces and threw an axe which I was carrying, not being in practice throwing an axe at a mark I missed the deer considerable. The deer never looked up so I walked up and kicked it in the neck with my snowshoe. The deer snorted, turned a flipflop backwards and stood a comical sight about ten feet away, its eyes full of snow, when he got through his fool head what was up, he pulled stakes in a hurry.
The foregoing incidents may sound fishy to some but to the skeptical I will merely say, get back a little and take a college course in nature, not a course from books, but from experience and you will find that the unusual is more often true than not. I have known hunters that came into the woods unable to put up a decent camp or build a decent camp fire to go out after a stay of a week or so and thenceforth and forever sit on a cracker barrel in the meeting place of the local chapter of the "Sons of Rest" and set themselves up as an oracle on all things woodsy.
One may spend a lifetime, a long, long lifetime, close to nature learning all that he can learn of woods life and woods ways and still not be able to truthfully say that he knows the Alpha and Omega of the Silent Places.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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