Saturday, October 24, 2009

How to Stop a Buck

--- Prelude , 6:19 pm ---

The first storms of the season have arrived. A dying hurricane from the other side of the Pacific Ocean slammed into the central California coast last Tuesday. In 24 hours, it delivered 7" of rain in the La Honda area, 25% of the average annual total.

--- The kiss of purple, 6:42 pm ---

For a few days before and after a storm, pressure fronts shuffle in shapely clouds. On Saturday, I walked up to the high pasture at twilight and witnessed spectacular orange, pink and red clouds steaming in off the ocean. Squatting on the side of a grassy hill, I oohed and aahed as the scene changed every 30 seconds and clicked away on my camera.

--- 6:45 pm ---

With the brilliant show on my front side, the pasture was getting darker on my backside. I sensed that something was moving and perhaps watching me from the forested area to the right, yet I didn't want to turn away from the sky play or put down my camera. Finally, I glanced over when I heard a noise. A buck was running straight towards me. I quickly stood up in surprise, and in response, the buck halted and gave me a startled look.

--- "Whoa, what was that? You aren't a doe." ---

We assessed each other. He was the 2 x 2 buck (2 antler points on each side) I had seen lurking last week on the edge of the courting oak above the house where he was being ignored by the dominant 4 x 4 buck. I quickly snapped a photo of him and the camera flash went off in the darkening meadow. The bright light sent the buck (probably partially blinded) into the forest and a doe appeared out of nowhere to follow him.

--- Sliding into redness, 6:50 pm ---

I went back to photographing the colorful skies, but in a few minutes, I had the same feeling again. I looked towards the forest, but did not see the 2 x 2 buck. Turning further around, I realized how dark it was getting and then saw a large buck charging straight down the hill above me. He was far away but coming fast and getting larger. Several does were scattering down the hill behind him.

--- Buck Number 2 - looking big & determined. ---

At this point, I was standing up again. After all the months of watching deer run away, I couldn't believe this buck was intentionally charging me until I saw him tear through the open spot in the fence and turn resolutely in my direction. As his shaking rack got closer, I could tell he was the 4 x 4 buck I had seen consorting with does last week under the courting oak. I figured he had mistaken me for another doe to add to his harem, even though I was wearing a faded pink shirt and maroon sweat pants. Colors and details were blurring in the pasture with the oncoming dusk. Deer have a much keener sense of smell than eyesight. Any second, I expected the buck would realize his mistake and peel off in another direction.

He kept coming and I decided to photograph my impending doom. With the first flash, the buck slowed a bit but kept true to his heading. By the third flash and within about 50 feet of me, he stopped to reconnoiter. At that point I think he could smell me well enough to decide I wasn't worth the trouble, and he took a slow oblique retreat up the hill, collecting his does on the way.

--- Finally halting on the third flash. ---

I decided it was time to head home and I made sure to walk tall with an obvious 2-legged stride.

Even though I was a bit shook up, I was still enjoying the light show. The last rays were highlighting the jagged outline of each Douglas fir tree. So often, the big trees blend into each other and you think "forest", but you are not conscious of so many individual trees breathing all day and standing outside all night.

--- 24-7 breathing for you, 7:01 pm ---

The next morning in lighter conditions, I went to check the Newt Pond which started to refill in the big storm. Already, I saw a small newt and water boatmen on the pond's surface. Four days - how do they get there so quickly?

Below the pond, I saw the 4 x 4 buck, 2 does and a fawn quietly browsing. They watched me without concern. Instead of charging this time, the buck puffed out his neck, posed regally and then turned and slowly trotted downhill out of sight. I was relieved he wasn't raring for a fight. The does stood at attention.

--- The 4 x 4 Buck sneaking out to the left on a mission. ---

As I replaced my camera in my backpack, I heard a loud CLACK-CLACK and looked over just in time to see the 4 x 4 buck with lowered antlers tossing up dirt on the edge of the Newt Pond. The rump of another deer was disappearing into the forest. The 4 x 4 buck must have spotted the 2 x 2 buck at the pond, slipped downhill into the forest, and snuck uphill under cover to surprise and challenge the smaller buck. Their antler clashing only lasted a few seconds. Black-tailed bucks have a reputation of avoiding direct combat, preferring to bluff charge to establish dominance.

--- The two bucks standing off a few days before under the courting oaks. ---

What I learned from the first storm of the season:
  • Post-storm clouds make spectacular sunsets.
  • One can usually dress sloppily and disregard color coordination on the ranch, but a pink t-shirt/maroon sweatpant combination might act as camouflage against a brilliant sunset sky.
  • My hair color is muddy fawn and I must not have a strong scent.
  • Don't get in between bucks during the rutting season, even if you are surrounded by a large pasture and fenceline.
  • Camera flashes might stop a charging buck in his tracks.

1 comment:

  1. This post is lots of fun to read! I like the way it's so first person.
    I feel I was there.


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