I went out to check my bait pile early this morning and got involved in an impromptu game of tag with our local herbivore and her offspring. It was dewy and silent as I made my way over the ridge and down a mowed path in our back pasture. I was moving slow, pausing now and then, mostly looking for another local favorite, a Barred Owl. He is usually perched in a tree somewhere close to my path. It is almost as if he does this on purpose, a greeting between predators perhaps.
We have a lot of red sumac that has encroached in this part of the pasture. Since our horses are gone, there is nothing around to eat things down. When I brush-hogged this area, it knocked down the sumac to about the 8 inch level and chewed up the stubs some. Red sumac spaces itself about a foot apart and you need to be careful how you walk, you don’t want to hook your foot on one of the stubs and end up on your keister. I adopted an old hunter’s trick of walking heel first and slowly bring down the rest of the foot, feeling for anything that will trip you or make noise. This lets you silently pick your way around bad footing and is good for sneaking up on things.
I had just gotten through the worst of the footing and paused to look around, when a color change and slight movement in the tree line to the south caught my eye. The far tree line was about 50 yards away, and at first, I was not sure if I had really seen anything. I stood for a bit and watched as a yearling whitetail wandered out of the brush. It was browsing some tall grasses, flapping its ears and not paying attention to anything but eating. She never looked my way and the wind, what little there was, was in my favor. This small deer is the offspring of a doe that I have seen quite often on our property. They had been coming to a salt block I had put out last year for attracting deer. The last time I saw them was on my game camera, spooking from the glow of the IR emitters when the camera takes pictures in the dark. That was a couple of weeks ago and now they were back munching on our weeds. Actually, I think they spend quite a bit of time here. I have found bedding areas on the West slope, one large and one small.
Since the small one had disappeared I continued walking slowly to my bait pile. I had taken several more steps when the doe walked into sight. She did not immediately see me and I just stood there. I had my camera with me and made a small move to get it out and she spotted that. Deer can be quite curious when they are not sure what they are seeing, but not smelling. She lifted her head, sniffed several times and then stiff-walked a couple of steps in my direction. I was kind of stuck in an awkward position, with my camera half way out, but did not want to move. She gave a great snort and continued to march my way, at least 10 or 12 yards. Everybody is convinced deer are so quiet, but she was making lots of noise, snorting and stomping, maybe trying to spook me into running.
It bugs a deer when they can’t smell what they are looking at, and she continued to stand there and blow air out her nostrils. After about a minute of this, it must have pegged the meter in her weird zone, so she turned, lifted her tail and slow-trotted back to the bush. I took this opportunity to ease off the path, into some low hanging branches of a Hedge Apple tree and tried not to get stuck with too many thorns.
Quite often, when whitetails are curious about something, they will circle around until they get a better look, or get your scent. As I crept around some very wooly brush, I heard her snort a few more times and from a different location. She was moving up the ridge and trying to flank me to the left. I was able to get to my bait pile and exchange data cards in the game camera, and now could continue the game. I moved back the way I had come, keeping low, crossed the mowed path and stayed under cover within the red sumac. Not sure where she was at first, but then heard another snort, somewhere up the hill, still in front of me. This whole thing had become a pleasant diversion from my original plan. While the coffee was being brewed, I thought I would pop out and see if there was anything new on the game camera. Dressed in sweatpants and sandals, I had not planned for crawling around playing tag with the locals. This was a case of going with what you got.
My opponent had made a guess as to where I was and was figuring I was still headed south. As I squatted under a cedar tree, I watched her pick her way, very quietly, through the red sumac in front of me. She was about 15 yards away and the wind was still in my favor. A moments pause, neck stretched, head high, nose really working hard. Her body was turned, just enough to the South, that I was able to stand and whisper “You’re It!” Her head snapped around, a look of indignant incredulousness flashed in her eyes as she attempted to locate me against the cedar. It is not very often that you get to win a game with something as wily as a whitetail. In the whitetail rule book of fun and games, any time a predator cheats and ends up where he should not be, the party is over (and this is why we can’t have nice things). She did not need to consult the rule book, just raised her white flag and took off, making great bounding leaps until she was out of sight. I can’t wait for our next game.