First Peoples

Social Politics Among the Deer People

The big buck gets the does.

Just off to the side, separated by only a dozen metres of grass, this little buck had two young females with him.

Any stories about deer herds being centred around a powerful male aren’t quite precise enough for this sociability. Here’s one of the young females showing how they’re eating the bunchgrass that has grown through the fall at the base of its stalks.

And any theories of solidarity among deer, well, right out the window with those. Here’s a young female who got forgotten by the group. She’s around a bluff, a couple hundred metres away. She was sound asleep until I startled her and she reluctantly stood up out of her bed. I apologized and told her that the rest of the crew had wandered off around the bluff and she could find them there. I explained about the coyotes and the skull of another young deer just around the sagebrush to the right, but, no, she wasn’t interested and just sort of tried to look busy so I would go away, so I did.

Looping back, I came on the first crew again. I explained the situation. You can see the buck checking me out as I explained about arithmetic and keeping everyone together, pointing and everything.

But he soon put his head down to the grass, so I moved on. And, yeah, if deer-deer social interactions are complex, human-deer ones are as well. It’s the coyotes you really have to keep an eye on. I mean, look again. The buck knew where I was the whole time, and has one ear trained right on me, but he was pretty reluctant to look at me.

It was more important to look off the open flank of the group for any following members of my pack. These are deer who have encountered me and my camera since they were tiny, all of them, but you never know. Look at them from the top again, too:

I only got a look because I had circled around. It was only as I passed the main body of the herd that he looked up. Until then, there were plenty of ears trained on me. It’s that circling behaviour that is worth a look.

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