Our new cat, Calli has some interesting traits. Top among them is her hunting talent which includes, as we have observed on several occasions, chasing deer. Calli and I usually awake early, usually sometime around 5:00 AM. This is the time of the day when herds of deer, sometimes numbering more than ten, but usually around four at a time, casually graze their way across our field on their way back into the dense forest on Cave Mountain. Sometime in early May, Calli, who had just developed her hunting skills catching field mice and juvenile bunnies, began to take a great interest in the deer as they strolled across her royal domain. I guess she considered them the ultimate prey to catch. After all, what housecat wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy a deer feast? Several times we watched her exercise her youthful abandon by scrambling off the porch to stalk them in the tall, dense grass in our field. After a few moments, we would see the deer suddenly look up, sensing her approach, turn and begin moving determinedly towards the ravine uncertain of where or what she was. Once she had them on the move, Calli would bound after them, leaping through the grass and scaring the departing deer into a desperate escape. I once watched her chase four deer up the gravel road that fronts our property until she was nearly out of sight. Although she hasn’t caught one, we realized that she fancies herself to be a ferocious deer hunter, as I first noted in my May 30, 2018 post entitled, Calli’s Catch.
Reality finally caught up with Calli’s deer hunting aspirations yesterday morning, when a lone year-old doe invaded our vegetable garden around 5:45 AM, just as daylight began to stir the dew into a gentle, hazy ground fog. As has become our early morning routine, I let Calli out onto our front porch after she vigorously devoured her breakfast. I watched her briefly as she leapt onto her favorite observation perch—our gas grill. From there, she surveys our hayfield and the vegetable garden carefully deciding which direction she will take to begin her morning ritual hunting safari. Although the morning light was still too feeble for me to see clearly, I noticed three dark, indefinite shapes just beyond the edge of the yard area that I mow, which I presumed to be two adult deer and a fawn. I noticed that Calli’s gaze was riveted on them. I fully expected her to attack, but I was working on the computer at the time so I returned to the house fully expecting her to chase them back into the woods.
However, after only five minutes or so, I noticed that she was peering in at me through the porch screen door. Calli usually likes to stay outside for at least half an hour before deciding to come back in briefly for some attention from me or to nibble on some dry food. I thought her desire to come back into the house was a little uncharacteristic for her, but she seemed quite eager to do so. I looked out into the field, but couldn’t see the deer, so I figured she was satisfied that she had chased them away.
After receiving some of my attention and chomping down three or four crunchies from her bowl, Calli parked herself in front of the screen door to signal she was ready to go out again. I let her out and went back on the porch to check the low temperature for the day. It a very comfortable 62 degrees and wisps of fog were drifting along the field. The morning light was stronger then and I quickly noticed that the three deer had not run away but had migrated to the edge of the garden fence. I could now clearly see that there was a four-point buck accompanied by an adult doe and her spotted fawn. As I stood there on the porch, the doe determinedly jumped over the fence into the garden. I reacted immediately by waving my arms and yelling at them to get out of the garden, as I descended the steps and walked towards the garden. The doe responded promptly by jumping out of the garden. Then, perceiving my threat, the three deer bounded away with their white tails wagging behind them.
I was surprised to realize that Calli had not done her job to protect our garden. After all, she hadn’t shown any fear of deer and typically spends a good part of her day playing and hunting for rabbits in the garden, so I fully expected her to protect it. I watched the deer race up the road and was about to turn away when I noticed some movement between the two rows of tomato bushes. There, looking up at me, stood a yearling doe chomping on a green tomato it had just ripped off a bush. I was amazed to see that I had not also scared it off with all my commotions. The deer just continued to chew on the tomato as I studied it. This particular deer is one that I recognized having seen before.
Late last fall, sometime around October or November, I had seen a mature doe and her fawn feeding in our field most evenings. They were the only two deer that I saw regularly on our farm that season. I noticed that the doe would leave her fawn in our field in an area adjacent to the goat pen before strolling into the woods that began along our ravine. She would leave the doe there for at least an hour or more before I would notice that it too had disappeared. Around the time that fall transitioned into the winter, I noticed that the fawn seemed to be alone for longer periods of time. Eventually, I realized that its mother wasn’t around, either having been killed during the hunting season or struck by a vehicle on the highway that runs down the valley a third of a mile from our house. We often see road kill deer on our forays along the highway to and from Petersburg and Franklin.
I kept a vigil on the lone fawn fully expecting it would not survive the winter. As noted in my periodic website posts, the winter was especially cold and windy but rather dry with very little snowfall. I guess the lack of significant snow cover was the most critical factor that determined the fawn’s winter fate. I continued to see the lone fawn periodically throughout the winter, as it often bedded down on the edge of our field where its mother had last left it before her final disappearance. Apparently, it managed to find enough dried grass and nuts to forage during the long periods of bare ground. When spring finally decided to return, so did the fawn, now a spotless doe. I believe it was that lone fawn that stared back at me from our garden, which would explain why I didn’t see it with the other three deer I had chased away and why it did not leave with them.
Since the doe didn’t leave, I decided I needed to go into the garden and convince it to leave. I watched it as I opened the metal gate, which usually makes enough noise when we open it to be heard from neighboring houses. Even that wasn’t enough to disturb the doe, which continued to chew on its tomato as it casually watched me enter the garden. I continued to walk steadfastly towards the deer waving my arms as I instructed it to leave. When I got within about fifteen feet of it (at the end of the tomato row), I stopped, puzzled by its lack of fear. At this point, I became curious to see how close I could get to it. I stopped trying to frighten it and just began to approach it very slowly.
When I was a child, the deer herd was so low in my area that we rarely saw any deer and any that we did see were so frightened by the sight of people that we never could get very close. Deer are more abundant here and many of them are used to seeing people, but I had never been this close to a wild deer in my life. The doe seemed completely unmoved by my proximity as I closed to within three feet of it. By now, it was swallowing the last bits of the tomato it was eating. Our eyes met as I extended my hand slowly towards it. I held my hand out to within a foot of its nose. I was close enough to see its nostrils flare slightly and the barrel of its chest expand and contract as it breathed. Yet, throughout my approach, it remained fixed in its position watching me with what appeared to be more curiosity than fear. As I stared into its eyes and stood with my hand extended, it cocked its head giving me the sense that it was trying to decide whether or not to sniff my fingertips. After a few seconds of thought, it casually twisted its head away from me and began to stroll down the tomato row away from me. I looked behind me back towards the porch and saw Calli walking cautiously down the steps towards me. Perhaps the sight of the ferocious feline deer hunter convinced the doe it was now outnumbered. Whatever its actual thoughts were, I knew it wasn’t the least bit intimidated by me alone. I followed the doe from behind to keep it moving towards the back fence, over which it eventually leapt. Throughout our garden walk, it stopped a few times to look back at me as if to make sure I was still following along. I never felt any fear from it and it reminded me of all the times as a child that I followed our cows up the hill behind our barn to close the fence to their pen.
When the doe was outside the garden, I realized that I was missing a great opportunity to take a close-up picture of a deer. I decided to walk back into the house and retrieve our cell phone. In the process I called Barb to come with me and see this deer. When I emerged again from the house, the deer was still outside the garden, but was walking along the driveway towards—not away—from the house. I began to feel that the doe, having been so young when it was abandoned, eventually came to accept our farm as its home and felt more secure here than it did in the woods. The deer walked the full length of the fence along our driveway, then turned right and passed between the house and the garden. By now, Calli was in her path, and I watched as the doe took a curious interest in her and approached. Before I could wake the phone up and get the camera active, the deer had extended her head towards Calli to take a sniff, causing Calli to recoil and back away. Our deer hunter suddenly felt fear by the unexpected approach of a fearless doe. I did eventually manage to capture a few pictures of Calli and the deer, and Barb had an opportunity to get within about eight feet of it when it was walking up the driveway. After Calli backed away, the doe jumped back into the garden, and this time, I scared it out and it ran across our field to the east, eventually disappearing into the ravine near the spot where it had been left so many times by its mother.
I have no idea what long term affect this strange experience will have on Calli’s deer chasing career. When I let her out on the porch early this morning, she again jumped onto the gas grill and began her survey of the wild back yard. I saw no deer at the time, but she remained vigilant for some time. About a half hour later, at 5:50 AM, I looked out the window and saw the lone doe walking through the field towards the garden. Calli was nowhere to be seen at the time. I walked out onto the yard and down the side of the garden fence, intercepting the doe before it could get to the garden. It stared at me again with recognition, before it decided to simply walk away. I watched as it crossed the driveway and headed for Cave Mountain, having approached within ten feet of it. I don’t know if I could ever touch it, but perhaps, after more close encounters, its curiosity will get the best of it and it will sniff my hand, that is assuming that Calli won’t recover her deer hunter instinct, and/or I won’t be forced to chase it out of our garden again. Nevertheless, I will never forget my first close encounter with a wild deer that appears to have adopted our Peeper Pond Farm as its home.