Whitetail Doe licking a Fawn

Crazy is as Crazy… Does?

Alex Vail 3.19.2013

Through the thermal monocular, I could clearly see the heat signatures of two deer as they walked out of the creek bottom and into the small field. Even though they could see infinitely better than I could in the light of the full moon, they still approached the corn pile cautiously. Quietly, I clicked off the safety and turned on the night vision.

At 60 yards, both deer stopped and began smelling the air; still cautious and knowing something might be wrong. Closer they came and soon it became apparent that it was two full grown does inbound on the corn pile. I pointed my crosshairs at the corn pile and waited. A 60 yard shot wouldn’t cut it. I needed them at 15 yards.

Soon, the two deer were close enough that I no longer needed the thermals. The light of the moon was actually enough to clearly see each animal. 40 yards… 30 yards… 20 yards… then, finally, 15! I could hear one of the does crunching on corn as I took aim on her shoulder. Not daring to breath for fear of them spooking, I slowly began squeezing the trigger when… *BOING!* I watched as both deer simultaneously lost their cool and bounced a few feet away. They knew something was up, and it wouldn’t be long before they bolted out of range. I quickly found my original target in the scope again and noticed that instead of a nice broadside shot, I was now staring at her rump… They knew something was wrong, they just didn’t know what or where it was. Figuring this was going to be the best shot I would get, I placed the crosshairs on the ham, and pulled the trigger.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, and no, this isn’t some bizarre and elaborate poaching expedition. Rather, this is all research. So when the trigger was finally pulled, instead of a loud *BANG* from my rifle, a semi-quiet *Thwump* could be heard as my tranquilizer dart made impact with its target. I watched as the two deer bounded away, and happily saw a blinking blue light from the tracking transmitter in the dart disappear with the two deer over the hill. A little bit of tracking with a radio receiver and a half hour later, myself and two other wildlife technicians found my (now snoring) doe, blindfolded her, and began the work up.

While most people are out of their tree stands until fall, I’m lucky enough to “hunt” deer until May for my job. The darting is part of a study involving Whitetail deer that compares fawn mortality between areas that practice coyote control and areas that do not. In order to get the fawns, one must first get hold of the does. And in order to get the does, we must sit in tree stands and shoot tranquilizer darts at them.

Over the past two years, this study has opened my eyes to deer behavior. During the regular hunting season, one can easily watch deer during daytime hours and get a feel for some of their common behavior. But at night, up close and personal, one can get a firm grasp on true deer behavior…particularly the does.

Paranoid? Insane? Crazy? Psychotic? Nuts?

None of these words accurately describe the whitetail doe because none of them are strong enough words. The amount of “crazy” present in one doe would be enough to leave upwards of 10 hunters babbling, drooling husks of outdoorsmen. Much like this particular night, I’ve watched countless times as does freak out over, well… nothing… Through the thermals, I’ve seen raccoons, flying squirrels, and even other deer scare the life out of does. One moment they’ll be fine, and the next they’re turning inside out to escape whatever it is that’s scared them. After watching a group of does nearly 300 yards upwind from me spook themselves one evening, I asked myself, “Why on earth are they so paranoid?” And after a few minutes of thinking, it became not only clear, but actually very understandable as to why does are insane.

The way I see it, a doe’s life isn’t exactly…well…easy. If I put myself in the deer’s shoes (or hooves) for a moment, life is laid out about like this… Starting around September, “Predator” enters the woods and begins slinging arrows at you. And since you obviously aren’t Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can’t very well cake yourself in mud and fight him to the death.  Soon after that, the “Predator” upgrades weapons and starts firing rifles at you. To make matters worse, at some point during The Most Dangerous Game, the woods get filled with extremely aggressive males… Now, assuming you’ve lived through all of this, the “Predator” gives up and goes back to his day job, and the males stop chasing you. But good news… Now you’re pregnant!

Throughout spring and the beginning part of summer, you swell up like a big, pregnant balloon and still have to avoid things like coyotes and those weird lights that come at you on the pavement. If you’re lucky like these deer we’re after, you’re still getting shot at and if you get shot, “aliens” come and put a collar around your neck. And, since you don’t own a thermacell or anything with DEET in it, you’ve been ready to claw your eyeballs out after the first few hundred mosquitoes hatched.

After a couple of months you finally give birth to nature’s hamburger: a fawn…

Anything in the woods with teeth would love to get hold of your delicious offspring. And, to make deer in our study EXTRA paranoid, the same “aliens” that shot you with a dart, put a collar around your neck, and preformed various other things show up yet again and put a collar around your kid. If the fawn survives its first few weeks, chances are it will make it. And just when it’s getting to be old enough to possibly survive on its own, “Predator” enters the woods again and starts slinging arrows; thus beginning the cycle over again…

So… yeah…I can understand why the whitetail doe is literally insane.

It truly is fascinating and fortunate to get the opportunity to study these animals that drive US insane for several months out of the year. This job has given me a new respect and understanding for whitetail and hopefully with research such as this, we, as hunters, can continue to enjoy hunting deer for years to come. We’ve still got some work ahead of us, so I can only hope that after approximately 9 months of sitting up a tree each year, some of that crazy doesn’t wear off on me. After all, crazy is, as crazy… Does.

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