Saddle Sore: Hoping the buck stops here again
A couple of young bucks (male deer for the uninitiated) used to hang out at the bottom of one of my hay fields, tucked securely into a row of cottonwoods and tall grass along the edge of a stream. We mostly never saw them, even though we knew they were there, but occasionally the presence of my dog or me would flush them out and they’d take a few lazy steps before hopping over a fence along the side of the field.
Watching a deer jump is kind of like watching magic happen before your eyes, or like watching a Whiskey Jack take off after it has eaten a few crumbs from your hand. For either one, you can’t really establish the takeoff position because it happens so quickly.
A couple of juvenile bachelors no doubt, who’d found safe harbor with plenty to eat and drink and who, like kids everywhere, would sometimes come by the house in the evening or early morning and peek in the windows or at the least leave some footprints and other signs. So consistent was their behavior they became part of us, a part of our lives that we relied on and also took for granted.
This summer it was different. By the time I got to that field with the water, it was later than usual, and I was immediately curious to know if they were still hanging out in the shade of the trees. Through the tall grass and thick tree branches, I spotted a large rack on the move and waited for them to make daylight. Wait! There was only one this summer, the other apparently having gone on alone to the next adventure, whatever it may be.
There was some consternation on our part with even my dog, Topper, realizing that the herd had shrunk. And in keeping with the changing times, we didn’t see that remaining buck again until I came back on the second round with my irrigation water about three weeks later.
He was there, first thing in the morning, standing in the house’s yard with a magnificent rack, four large points well-spaced along tall and thick antlers. What a beauty he was, with the velvet still covering his horns. He didn’t immediately run off, but rather took a few jabs left and right with his front feet, kind of like a cutting horse with his head down, before he bounded off behind a berm surrounding the yard.
Clearly he was no longer a juvenile and was going about his business, probably looking for a harem to claim as his own and had wandered back through his haunt at my place, hoping maybe to see some action there. I wished him my best and kind of as I would a child, sent him off with a silent lecture to stay out of the road and not get run over and, for Christ’s sake, don’t get shot during hunting season. Make sure you have a few good years for yourself.
I never expected to see him again, but the next day, right at dusk, there he was about 50 yards away from the house just looking at me. Startling as this was, I fully expected him to take off, but for a moment he held his ground, not taking his eyes off me. And then, poof! He turned and was gone, over the rail fence and into a thick stand of aspen trees at the top of the field. I followed him in.
There was a faint reflection of light off his eyes as he turned to face me in the aspens, back about 10 yards as a skulking stalker might be on a field of battle. As though waiting for me, he put his head down as I approached, swinging it a bit from side to side. I couldn’t be sure if it was a playful or an aggressive move, but before walking off to the side of my original track, I feinted left, feinted right, with no reaction from the buck.
Then, he circled around in front of me, slowly and deliberately, maintaining his distance but blocking my way to that side, dipping his head again and moving his hindquarters back and forth. I stopped and we played hide-and-seek over and under a large evergreen branch that hung between us. We ended that and stared at each other for what might have been a short minute, and then he moved off at a walk, not looking back in my direction.
I’ll be irrigating that hayfield again in a couple of weeks, just before the second cutting. I’d sure like to see that buck again, fit and fine, frolicking with a small harem of does.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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