This beautiful pair of black tail deer bucks are hanging out around EEC Forest Stewardship. It’s the first time such a mature pair has been spotted around the land, and it’s a great sign of health our deer population is experiencing. In the above photo, the two males are still in velvet, as they grow a new pair of antlers each year before shedding them again at the end of the rut in late fall. I do not know for sure if these two deer are related, but it’s common for sibling males to stick together, forming a bachelor herd. They might also team up to claim a harem of does to share during breeding season. Cooperation wins in the end, and for these bucks, that win is genetic and territorial. They can work together to push out other younger, less dominate bucks, while impressing the does with two sets of large racks. For me as a hunter, this availability of mature bucks in the neighborhood is a great encouragement. In the last three harvests of bucks on the property, the animals were younger and less experienced. I do not hunt for antlers, but take what animal is offered during the short, two week hunting season in October.
Hunting gives me a lot of insight into the population of deer in my area. I have to do a lot of observing, tracking, and sign reading before a successful harvest. Most good hunters are always watching for deer, and learning from them. Year round I look at deer, see where they move, how many hang out, and the overall health of the local herd. Black tail are territorial, like many other animals, and usually stay in a particular area once they find enough food, water, and shelter. Our neighborhood has a lot of single homes on larger acreages, allowing for the space and habitat the deer prefer. Mowed pastures and a diversity of plants along the edges to brows, are ideal for these ungulates. I’ve watched a lot of does with younger fawns this summer, but these two males are a real treat. It tells me the herd are healthy by age- mature males are a good sign that the deer can reach maturity, and support multiple big bucks. If there was not enough food or shelter, the bigger males tend to wander away into more established habitat beyond human settlement.
It’s important to note that not all deer species act the same. I’m talking about the habits of Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, this is a subspecies of mule deer that range exclusively on the west coast, and specifically Western Washington, within our state. On the east side of the mountains, you will find typical mule deer Odocoileus hemionus, and some white tail deer Odocoileus virginianus. I’ve included range maps below to show the variety and diversity of Odocoileus in North America. The map on left in darker brown is white tail, the right is mule deer and sub species, including the black tail of Western Washington. There’s a lot yet to be discovered relationships between these species and the diversity of habits they share and don’t share. For me, the lessons of black tail deer do not cross over to other deer species, and I am sure I’d have a lot more to learn if I tried to pursue mule deer or white tail during hunting season.
My passion for black tail lessons is entering it’s 9th year, and I’m so glad to see these two strapping bucks coming around before the season starts. If I’m lucky, they will establish this area as a territory, and claim the doe population as their harem this fall. They could be driven out by another more mature buck, but as a team, they have a good chance of standing their ground and fending off single bucks together. It’s a great strategy, and I’m not sure how often this approach happens. My observations of these two beautiful animals will continue, and I hope to have the privilege of hunting one of them successfully this fall. It would be my first mature buck harvest, and that would be a special gift from the animals I tend this land for. The deer feed me as much as I feed them, and that sacred relationship remains an important covenant with the land. It reinforces my place in the great circle of life, and to harvest wild food of all kinds- berries, greens, and meat, ties me closer to the land I love so much.
When we as humans take the time to bind ourselves to the land, in ways that truly help us and nature survive and thrive, we become part of that land, not just visitors passing through. We learn the way of it- how it is all bound into one ecology together, with people playing an important role in that relationship as threads in the living tapestry of nature. We are never separate from it, not matter how high up the food chain we think we are. With each successful harvest, I give thanks and speak the words, “As I am fed from your body, one day mine too will become the grass for your future generations to graze upon.”