I was walking through the kitchen last week around 7:30 or so in the morning and right there, and I mean right there and staring in at the breakfast table, was a deer. A five-point buck, to be specific. Had it not been for the screen, I could have handed him his own cup o’ Joe—that is, if deer drank coffee. I should have asked.
“S’up, deer,” I said. I figured he’d move as soon as he saw me, but he didn’t. This made me wonder how often peeping deer have lurked outside the windows watching cable TV behind our backs while making shadow puppets with their antlers.
Since it seemed clear that he wasn’t going anywhere, I thought I’d take a picture but by the time I was able to grab my phone, he had lazily walked away from the window, still in no urgent hurry to leave. All this action at the window finally caught the attention of my dog, Milo.
“Huh, would you look at that, Milo,” I said to the dog. Once he hopped his front paws up on the window ledge, he started growling under his breath, probably trying to imagine what venison tasted like. “Look what’s in your yard, all walking around as if he owns it,” I said.
Milo has chased after deer before, but he’s never gotten this close to one. I have no idea how dogs perceive different species of anything, let alone a deer, but my guess is that they get a scent of it first, look at it second and then tear off after it as if it’s a UPS driver who’s wearing twill shorts made out of bacon. It was probably just a big dog with antlers to Milo, so I waited until the deer loafed out to the edge of the yard before I let the dog outside.
Now, have you ever seen how those dogs in cartoons run in place while trying to get traction and then finally shoot off in a cloud of dust? That actually happens. Milo nearly left nail marks in the concrete as he built up speed before he rounded the corner of the porch and tore off after that deer. There was never any threat of him catching it, as the deer was able to get himself past the Invisible Fence with two bouncy leaps. Milo skidded to a halt, scuffed his paws a few times to let the buck know whose yard this was, and then came back inside.
“Aw, nuts,” he said. “Almost had him.” I gave Milo a dog biscuit, which helped soothe his loss a little bit but he was still grumpy about this whole matter of the deer in his yard.
Later that night, let’s say around 7:30 or so, I looked out the window after dinner and the same buck was back in the yard, under one of the birdfeeders, pecking away at the corn kernels I had tossed out for the turkeys. Yes, we also have turkeys—a male, a female and so far, only one turkey chick. Since they missed their dinner call, the deer had whatever was left after the squirrels and chipmunks had their dinner.
“Look at that,” I said to my wife, “He’s back.”
Now let me explain something for you folks who don’t have large, hooved animals wandering around their house. A deer in the backyard is pretty, but they can be destructive, so attracting them is not typically encouraged. People who live in areas with deer have to plan their landscaping accordingly otherwise it’s a smorgasbord for wildlife. This fact will come into play in a little bit.
Now me, I’m a nature freak with an unnatural lack of fear of most animals. I’m missing whatever gene it is that usually makes people apprehensive of certain animals, so here’s what I did. I grabbed my camera and my iPhone and walked out the back door.
When the deer lowered his head to eat, I moved closer. When he raised his head. I stopped. I did this until I was about ten feet away from the deer and probably would have gotten closer but my backyard neighbor started driving his car up his driveway (which parallels my yard for about three hundred feet). The deer got spooked by the Chevy and ran away, but not before I got a few pictures and some video. Meanwhile, Mrs. G. and Milo were watching this entire event from inside the house; probably expecting me to come back in with hoof marks on my forehead and ticks the size of crickets hanging off my shorts.
I took a few minutes to download the pictures and then put the camera back on the kitchen table, armed and ready. It didn’t take long for the deer to come back, so I told Milo to stay and then I went back outside.
Milo does a good stay, and will normally glue his butt to the ground until he is released, but watching me inch towards this other animal—this animal in his yard—was too much to take, so he slid the screen door open and came charging out. Yes, he has recently taught himself how to slide open the screen door, which is something that both infuriates and impresses the heck out of me.
So there I was, five steps away from petting this antlered creature when Milo came blasting out in full bark mode. The deer looked up, Milo stopped at the Invisible Fence boundary, I was taking pictures and we all stood there in a cross-species Mexican standoff. After a full minute or so, the deer had enough and bounced off into the bushes. Milo took complete credit for vanquishing the beast and looked up at me with biscuit eyes. “There. I saved you again. Can I get chicken flavor this time?” he said.
This was getting weird, but full tilt weirder was only fifteen minutes away.
I was in the office, going over the award-winning National Geographic pictures of a common deer when my wife called me from the porch. “Your deer is eating my hostas!” she said.
My deer? When did I buy a deer because if I owned a deer, I would totally saddle him up and ride him around the neighborhood. That’s right, here I am. Ridin’ my deer.
By the time I could get from the back room to the backyard, Mrs. G. was chasing after the deer in her pajamas while yelling, “Hey … deer … stop eating my hostas!” The deer wasn’t at all impressed and I swear if it weren’t getting so dark, this would have been a photographed confrontation for the ages. She got pretty close to him too; in spite of Milo barking his fool head off from behind his invisible boundary “Darn you, deer. If not for this cursed technology…”
Mrs. G. came back inside and was a little ticked at me for putting out corn kernels, but in my defense, the deer was coming around before the corn. “It’s all fun and games until they start eating my hostas,” she said the next day while we were having our morning coffee on the back porch, so I sprayed a deer repellant on her plants, which smells horrible. Did it stop the deer from coming back?
Nope. I got some more close-up pictures of him later that night, but I think we may have come to an understanding over Mrs. G’s hostas. I told him that I’d let him eat the stuff that falls out of the birdfeeder if he stays off the greenery. That seemed fair to me.
What about those velvety antlers?
Deer antlers grow in response to the seasonal increase of daylight at a rate of about a quarter of an inch per day. I can distinguish the growth on the deer that’s been hanging around my yard when I compare the pictures.
Deer antlers are actually deciduous bone matter, meaning deer will shed them every year. My guess is that this buck in my yard is about two years old because of his slender build and his smallish rack of antlers. He has five distinct points, each covered with velvet. If one were to touch them now, the antlers would feel soft or even spongy until they stop forming in mid-summer. They will then “fill in,” the bone will harden and the velvet will fall off. The growth of deer antlers (it takes about four months to go from a pedicel to a full rack) is one of the fastest known growths of tissue in mammals and as a deer ages, each seasonal rack will increase in size.
What makes this singular buck (that has been coming in my yard) unique is his solidarity. Male deer at this time of the year will generally stay in reclusive groups and restrict their activity. This deer is in my yard, several times each day, and is showing little to no fear of my dog, the hosta-protecting Mrs. G. or me. I suspect this will change as rutting season gets closer and his testosterone levels increase when he’ll have other things on his mind besides sunflower seeds and corn kernels. This time period right now is what makes it fun for me. I get to watch this development up close and for whatever reason, closer than I imagined possible. It’s kind of like watching eggs hatch in a nest and sticking with them until the fledglings fly away.
If this deer makes it through hunting season, he will shed those antlers in November or so and then wander around the neighboring winter woods. His search for food will bring him back out into the backyards, with their juicy hemlocks and other store-bought plants. I’ve lived here for twelve years and have seen a lot of deer, but never one with a decent-sized rack, so it’s not likely that he will die of old age. In a few months and not too far from my backyard, arrows will fly and that will be that. I’m not naïve about this fact, so I can’t help but be a little grateful for the experience of having this plant-eating trespasser around for a few weeks.
I can’t explain his docility one bit.