Monday, November 2, 2009

The Wild Suburbs

Walking around my "hood" yesterday afternoon, I spotted a deer among some tall grass and brush in a sort of gully at the edge of a big vacant lot. Creeping closer, I found him to be a spike buck.

No big deal to see deer in the suburbs these days, but I thought I'd see how close I could get without spooking him--no mean feat in broad daylight, on a wide-open hillside, with big crunchy leaves everywhere and a squirrel right next to me. As I got to within maybe ten yards, a much older buck (four points) revealed himself nearby. Continued creeping brought what appeared to be a fawn into view.

As I crept closer still, Senior Buck paced back and forth between the concealed "fawn" and exposed Junior Buck, stopping periodically to stare and stare at me head on, his nose quivering with alertness. When I got to within twenty feet, he began stamping his left forefoot periodically in an apparent show of defiance. Junior kept moving toward Senior, who kept turning to scold him back away. I assumed this was a coordinated defense to protect the "fawn," using Junior as a decoy.

Eventually I reached that invisible point beyond which no deer will tolerate humans, and the "fawn" rose from the brush to reveal that it was in fact a doe. She and Senior and Junior (each about ten feet from the other) all faced me as Senior stamped and nodded, making what looked for all the world like the prelude to a charge. Uncertain what the rules of engagement are when bucks feel their doe is threatened, I began to back off. I had to get back almost to the thirty yard point before the trio seemed significantly calmer.

As I continued to back away, Junior came out of the brush and strolled, in the open, past Senior and Senora. I assumed this was still part of an elaborate decoy maneuver. When he got close to Senora, Senior rushed out of the brush and faced him aggressively. When Junior held his ground, Senior made a false charge, at which point Junior dashed off into another clump of brush.

Suddenly it seemed that the unusual anxiety and agression hadn't been about me, but Junior. Senior was clearly guarding Senora against an interloper, or possibly driving off his own son.

On the way home I hiked down and back up a dry creek bed thick with deadfall and undergrowth, descending between two McMansions and coming up onto a major road. Down in there it could have been the Olympic Peninsula for all it resembled the suburbs.


  1. We're used to wildlife around here, but since the fires, there's more than the occassional sighting of bear, wildcats, and then all the usual suspects.

    I'm always amazed and disheartened when people say they have a deer problem, i.e. deer visit and chomp on their plants. Sure, it doesn't do the greenery any good, but my god, small price to pay to see deer out your window.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I've really come around in my feelings about deer lately, mainly thanks to the Tom Brown Tracker School.

    Though few would believe it, NJ is "deer central," and it was easy to become jaded. But when I started contemplating how one might go about trying to touch one (as Tom has done), they suddenly seemed immensely magical and powerful.