Tony Vagneur: Getting in tune with wildlife


We can ask questions about western wildfires, but there’s one group, a silent bunch of beings, who can’t ask and to whom we can’t explain – it’s the animals in the midst. These creatures, trying their level best to escape the desecration of their homes by fire, present a sad and tragic vision. Their faces, caught on camera, appear to give their emotions away.

Meanwhile and fortunately, in the Roaring Fork Valley the natural world seems to move along without too much angst. Earlier this spring, there was a doe hanging around the house, acting a little unusual as though searching for something. We kept an eye on her, Tux and I, when finally we spied her lying down in a grassy area just adjacent to and below the deck. Pretty sure what was going on, I checked every few minutes to witness the progress. Sure enough, soon she had given birth to a speckled, spotted fawn, just the cutest thing you ever saw.

We have a lot of prolific deer around here, and I know of at least three different does with twins. Our deer, the one that gave birth in the yard, didn’t hang around long for kudos and was soon up, shepherding her shaky-legged newborn off to the safety of the brush-covered hillside.

Each morning, before the arrival of the sun, I drive alongside spreading hay fields, readying to change the flood irrigation water. Off in the distance, Tux and I see them, a group of muley bucks, munching away on the green, lush grass we’ve provided. Some mornings, it’s eight of these stalwart mavens of the wild; other mornings, there are 11. All males, all bucks. Whatever the count, everyone has an impressive rack, the kind any photographer would want to snap or hunter would want to hang on the wall.

As we walk out to the most recent water set, we have an easy peace between us; Tux doesn’t chase deer, but he does arouse caution in them, and as they graze, they keep an eye fixed on his location, not sure whether he’s a meddling coyote, or worse, a domestic dog turned loose on the neighborhood. As we get closer, they gaze at me as well, not sure of the significance of my unusual form, with an irrigation shovel slung over my shoulder.

Sometimes it’s a draw to see who is going to flee the area first, the stags just mentioned or the Canada geese who have taken to grazing nearby the deer. Is there some sort of symbiotic relationship between the two groups, or is it just happenstance?

Not a coincidence was the other morning when one of the largest of the bucks decided to make a stand against my presence. As the others trailed off behind him, he took a few menacing steps toward me, about 30 yards away, and bobbed his head up and down, carrying those massive antlers with ease. Not sure about the seriousness of this challenge, I called my dog in close for backup. As we slowly stared each other down, the buckskin seemed satisfied with things, turned and jogged gently off to join the rest of his clan.

Tux took to roaming a sagebrush-dotted hillside just off one of the hayfields, and I usually paid him little mind, until I noticed a sporadic movement in the grass, one that didn’t belong to Tux, although they are the same black-and-white color. They were close to each other, about 50 yards away from me, and I immediately called my dog, expecting the worst.

That smell, that noxious odor is so potent, it takes forever to go away, and as luck would have it, the breeze sent it my way before Tux arrived. Oh no, I was certain he had been hit, but in the ways of good fortune, the blast from the skunk must have been errant or a warning, for it had apparently missed my dog, and before long, our little bubble of where we worked was skunk-odor free. I watched the polecat, erroneously named as such, work its way down the fence line and felt a thankful connection with it.

The next day, we ran into what was likely the same skunk¸ trundling down an empty ditch, well-hidden in the tall grass, just the tip of its tail sticking up. I got within about 6 feet of that telltale appendage before I saw it, but it ignored me and I quickly called my dog to my side. He was keenly aware of its presence, but some nagging from my end kept them apart. We headed to the Jeep and thankfully the skunk ducked into a culvert. Perhaps an unspoken truce was achieved somewhere along the way. But it can probably be safely said that neither side trusts the other.

There was a bear, but oops, we’re out of room for today.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at