Sunday, November 23, 2008

The saga of the young deer


Freda woke me up to "come and see the two wolves". Looking through the binoculars I could only see one on the opposite side of the lake. I said where is the other one and Freda said it is swimming toward the shore. As we watched, it got to the shore and stood up - then we realized that it was a deer. The deer saw the predator at the same time and froze there. As we looked at the situation through the binoculars, we realized that the wolf was not a full-size wolf after all, but was a coyote brush wolf. A coyote brush wolf is unlikely to be able to deliver a killing blow by itself, and a healthy deer could likely get away from a single coyote brush wolf but not if it is cornered against a partially frozen lake.


We watched the coyote brush wolf coming and going, trotting off into the woods for a few minutes and then reappearing, but never really getting closer than 10 or 15 feet to the deer. We didn't know why the deer didn't get up and run when the coyote brush wolf went away. You can see that the deer had to break the layer of ice on the lake as it swam (see swath of broken ice running horizontally across the bottom of the photo), so we thought that perhaps the deer was exhausted and perhaps even frozen to the ice. Although deer are food for predators like coyotes and wolves, Freda and I thought it needed to have a sporting chance to be able to get away from the coyote brush wolf, so we decided to walk around the lake with the dogs (on leash, of course, when we got to the lake because we didn't want them to go through the ice!). We figured that our presence, along with the dogs, would scare the coyote brush wolf away to let the deer have a chance to live another day.

About 10:30am
As we got near the deer, on the other side of the lake, we could see that it wasn't moving. We couldn't figure out why it didn't run, unless it was frozen to the ice (which does happen).

Strangely, we were able to get quite close to the deer. I showed this photo to a few people who hunt deer and the consensus seemed to be that this was a young male deer, about a year old. You can see that it is growing some horns, but they are just spikes, so it definitely is a young deer.

Freda went off with Tawny and Taz so the two dogs wouldn't frighten the deer too much. As I got even closer to the deer, it got up very clumsily and lurched off trailing drops of blood, with its right front leg just kind of dangling. The leg was very clearly broken and completely. I wasn't ready with the camera so wasn't able to get a photo of the deer. The above photo is of the spot where the deer was laying in the water. You can see the blood had been pooling in the water. I think it is quite unlikely that the deer was able to swim across the lake with a broken leg, given the thickness of the ice on the lake (1-2 inches thick in most places). We think that perhaps the coyote brush wolf was able to somehow attack the deer when we were not watching it or else perhaps the deer slipped on the ice and somehow fell and broke its leg that way.

In any case, it is now more than 12 hours since we last saw the terrified deer clumsily crashing its way through the thick underbrush, and it is more likely than not that the deer is now in deer heaven. We hope that whatever predator did catch it in the end (because it would have been an easy catch) was able to put it out of its misery quickly.

Update Jan 1/09: these were not coyotes but are what are locally known as brush wolves - they are larger than coyotes and smaller than the classic wolf.

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