Spring 2020 Critter Encounters: Deer

White-tailed deer are a regular feature in my world.

Living very close to a national forest boundary, they often cross my lot in small groups as they move from one section of forest to another. Spring and autumn are their busy times, but they’re around all summer. If my dogs notice them, they’ll woof at the deer from within my fenced yard, the deer stopping to assess the (nonexistent) danger before moving along at a faster clip. I get to see young and old, often leaping with tails flashing. It’s wonderful.

We also often see deer when we’re running or walking in the forest. In those instances, I rely on Conall to alert me to their presence because he won’t chase them, where Finn would love to. With Conall’s warnings I’m almost always able to prevent Finn from herding deer.

So it was fortunate that on a recent trail run, only Conall was with me. Our route was longer than Finn – he’s 12.5 years old now – can handle without risking injury.

As Conall and I were nearing the finish of that run, he stopped to look off trail, down slope into the trees, his tail dropping which is a signal to me that he’s detected something large. Maybe he heard movement, maybe he smelled a fresh scent. I never know, but I pay close attention to him and his body language.

Neither of us saw anything, though, so we continued our run, Conall’s tail returning to its usual position high over his back.

A minute later, rounding a bend in the trail, Conall stopped again, tail dropping, staring into the trees and foliage in the same general area he’d been scanning before.

This time we both saw something: the brown rump of a white-tailed deer, busy munching plants on the ground. She didn’t seem to be aware of our presence.

A couple seconds later I saw the white dots against the light brown of a fawn’s rump, standing beside its mother. It could see its hind legs, but not its head.

dog, trees, deer
Conall alerting me to the mama deer in the distance.

I pulled my phone from my pack and took a photo, then set it to video, knowing that I could trust Conall to stay and not chase the deer. (If Finn had been with us, I would have been too busy putting a leash on him to be able to take any video.)

I was delighted to see that this doe had twins!

These are the moments that remind me why I love Malamutes so much. They are my eyes, ears and nose in the forest. They’re attuned and aware, and by learning their body language, I benefit from their connection to nature, witnessing so much that I would otherwise never observe.

The next day both dogs and I returned to this same area for a shorter run. Knowing the doe and her twin fawns were likely still in this area, I was very cautious with Finn, relying on Conall to alert me to their presence. We didn’t see them as we headed up the mountain, or on our return. But close to the end of our run Conall again alerted to something off in the trees when we stopped at a stream crossing where the boys always take a drink. Peering through the thick trees and undergrowth, I saw a deer that neither of the boys actually saw.

See her? In the center, between tree trunks.

The feature image is a closeup of the same deer. Without Conall’s subtle body-language alert I wouldn’t have ever spotted the deer. I was glad that Finn, short as he is, couldn’t see her at all. It helped that she didn’t startle or move; with Finn, if it isn’t moving, he doesn’t see it.

11 thoughts on “Spring 2020 Critter Encounters: Deer”

  1. Conall is a good dog. Mine would do the same thing as Finn. The deer are so pretty to see in nature, we have a lot near us as well. I like that they do not run either unless they sense they are being seen as prey. I enjoy just watching them do their thing in peace.

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  2. I love this so much. Bear and Teddy both alert me, but as Teddy has yet to see a wild animal anywhere close, I don’t know what his reaction would be. Bear has learned that when there is a deer, we must be absolutely silent and still and reverent because we are having a great experience. She is. You can see it in her face. I think dogs can have a sense of wonder.

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  3. one of my fondest memories of hiking was in the Manistee national forest in Michigan. I came across this tiny faun curled up in the grass. It was precious and stayed still, so that I got a good look at it. Here, I see both black tailed and Columbian white tailed deer and herds of elk on my farm.

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  4. I find that I usually spot the deer long before my dog does. My eyes are about 4 feet above theirs and they’ve usually got their nose in a bush or on the ground following a scent.

    The older dog Avery is very good about silently staying while I watch a deer. OTOH the younger dog, Oliver, stands there trembling, his nose flaring and needs constant reminders.

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    1. Yes! I’m glad I’m taller than my dogs so I often spot wildlife before they do! Thankfully Finn, being short, often doesn’t see wildlife so I can observe without disturbing them (for Finn, if it isn’t moving, it doesn’t exist). Conall’s abilities to detect nearby wildlife are much better, though; he uses scent and sound to alert, even if he doesn’t see them, so I watch his body language closely. Thankfully he’s more about detection than chasing.

      It has always been fascinating to me how different dogs react to different wildlife. I’m pleased Conall is the alert-and-stay type. His predecessor, Meadow, reacted similarly to deer, a ho hum sort of reaction, but elk? She would literally quiver and vibrate with excitement if she caught their scent and want to chase them. And Maia, who was two years older, respected all beings larger than her, whether deer, elk, or bear, and simply alerted to them so I knew they were nearby.

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  5. When I got Bud, I thought — finally, I have a dog that I can take on walks. Oh how I misjudged that! Buddy is high energy. I am not equipped to take Buddy running because that’s what he wants to do…run. Thank goodness Lauren’s up to the task. What gorgeous scenery and wonderful dogs you have! To see deer like that? Amazing. Thanks for sharing. Mona

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