With wildlife viewing, being in the right place at the right time (along with a lot of luck!) is often what spells the difference between observing something unique and missing it altogether.
One evening several years ago in Kittson County, I crawled up into an elevated platform tree stand on a field near a woodland and watched a female white-tailed deer and two fawns walk out of a patch of willows onto the field to feed. A short time later, a small buck joined the trio, which in turn made the doe somewhat nervous — she moved about in a stiff-legged manner while keeping a close eye on the approaching buck.
It became apparent that the doe was coming into estrus and the little buck sensed this, yet the doe had other things on her mind and abruptly bolted for the safety of a nearby patch of willows. The confused little buck that had been trailing her stayed behind and began feeding with the fawns.
About 10 minutes later, the doe reemerged from the same patch of willows a few hundred yards further north of the buck and fawns. She began foraging in the opening, alone. And five minutes before that I watched a nice eight-point buck and a smaller six-pointer walk onto the open field opposite the doe, which they could not see because of a stand of cattails separating the pair of bucks from the doe.
It was interesting to watch the bucks. The pair wasn’t particularly tolerant of each other’s presence and at times displayed some aggressive behaviors. The two were performing the classic “I’m bigger than you” behavior, which involves a slow and deliberate walk around one another while showcasing their respective side-profiles of their bodies and antlers.
The larger of the two bucks erected the hairs on his body, including the rump hairs and the hairs on the edges of his tail. This display gave his overall pelage a dark, almost black, color. For added effect, he laid his ears back like an angry or annoyed horse or moose. Eye contact was completely avoided during the entire display. Generally, just a mere glance into each other’s eyes would prompt immediate physical contact in which antlers would become involved and a pushing match ensues.
After a few moments of this, the smaller of the two animals suddenly turned and began walking away, while the supposed victor remained where he was. Then, apparently catching the scent of the doe upwind of him, he sprinted directly for her, though he could not see her. The sound of hooves on frozen sod must have alerted the doe, for she stopped feeding and stood looking and listening in the direction of the moving buck. It was all very fascinating to observe unfold.
The aggressive acting buck covered the 200 or so yards in no time and broke through the cattail stand only a few yards from the doe. This caused both deer to break, and the chase was on. She led him through the cattails, the field, and into the woods.
Meanwhile, the smaller buck began meandering my way. So, for the fun of it, I tried coaxing him closer by imitating a common vocalization that male deer emit during the fall mating season.
These vocalizations, called “grunt calls,” which are most often produced by dominant bucks that are tending to receptive female deer, are simple enough to make with one’s own voice. Even so, companies that produce hunting products and game-calls manufacture “grunt calls” for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts. In the right situation these artificial calls work very well, especially during the annual November white-tailed deer breeding season, or “rut” as it is also called.
My imitation of the grunt call (I did not have an artificial call) did the trick and the small buck began turning in my direction. For added excitement, I tossed in the sound of a fawn in distress. This vocalization sounds something like the call of a male peacock.
After I produced a series of these two calls, I glanced across the field in time to see a very large buck emerge from the woodland. His high and wide antlers were impressive. For several seconds the big deer stood staring intently in the direction of the small buck. At this time I made another grunt call, and that’s all it took.
The big buck came sprinted across the field in a beeline straight for the small buck. Upon reaching the littler deer, he stopped. The lesser buck, no doubt intimidated by the larger deer, began to step backwards. I then grunted once more and, to my astonishment, the big buck came full speed right for me and stopped only twenty yards from where I stood in the platform tree stand.
This magnificent animal was looking for a competitor and for a moment he stood firm while trying to locate the other “deer.” A moment later he bounded back to the woodland where he came from. For several minutes, as daylight waned and the coldness began settling into my bones, I reflected on what I had just observed, thrilled and thankful for witnessing a spectacle of nature that I was fortunate enough to be in the midst of.
Indeed, the outdoors is full of wildlife activity now and every day. Whether it’s the great flocks of geese and sandhill cranes on their annual spring and fall migrations, or increased deer activity that one can observe throughout each November, there is something for everyone to see and appreciate as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.