Nature Nearby: When deer are in a rut

One of the most dangerous things a deer can do is kick a competitor or intruder with its powerful legs.

By FRED SEITZ — If you wandered in or near Magruder Park in late September or early October, you may have noticed several young male deer, or bucks, standing around. For several days in early October, I observed groups of five to seven antlered gentlemen gathering nearby. When I approached (carefully), I received some interesting stares and an occasional bowed head with lowered ears — definitely not a friendly greeting.

Fortunately, with my discreet exits, nothing untoward happened. The next day, though, I noticed some interesting scrapes in the gravel and dirt, suggesting that the gentlemen had a few discussions among themselves. Maybe they were talking not about me, but about the ladies? Does often enter estrus in October, and the males can be somewhat aggressive in response. I’ve noticed bark scrapes on some trees, another hint that bucks will soon be seeking mates.  

Although deer’s mating season can run through January, in this area it typically takes place in late October and November. One or two fawns are born after gestation of about 200 days.

I often see groups of bucks or does in the park in spring and summer, well before mating season. These bucks typically have undeveloped antlers. While I’ve never seen a conflict between two males, my understanding is that they don’t usually use their headgear when they fight. Instead, one buck will try to intimidate another by lowering his head, staring at his competitor and scraping the soil with his feet. One of the most dangerous things a deer can do is kick a competitor or intruder with the same powerful legs that enable their quick runs and impressive leaps. It’s one of the reasons that you never want to get too close to a deer, even if it seems mellow.

Antlers regrow every year. We don’t often find old antlers, though, as they’re typically eaten by rodents, who benefit from the mineral nutrients in these meals.

Deer are plant eaters and often the bane of gardeners. Despite having no natural predators in the wild here inside the Beltway, many of our local wolf-wannabes (aka dogs), including my own delusional pup, tap into their inner wolf when they have close encounters with deer, barking and giving chase. Given that deer range from 20 pounds (fawns) to 130 pounds (adults), confrontations between deer and other animals — or cars — can have negative consequences for all involved.

Despite their drawbacks, deer, with their majestic form and graceful runs and jumps, continue to be a sight enjoyed by many. Just be sure to keep your distance from the bucks, especially during the fall.

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