Although pumas, bobcats, and coyotes are the main predators of mule deer throughout the year, humans take a heavy toll during hunting seasons. I recall one particular incident in years past when I still hunted.
I often hunted in an orchard—long abandoned by early settlers and of late well hidden in the forest. In spring there are still myriad daffodils gracing the remnants of the old house, long since taken over by deer mice and bushy-tailed woodrats. To the west was a pond, where muskrat lived and otter occasionally played. To the south and east was an orchard of gnarled apple trees that played host to birds in spring and early summer when in full leaf and suitable for nesting, to black bear and raccoon in late summer and early autumn when the fruit hung ripe on the trees, and to hornets and deer in late autumn and early winter when apples lay fermenting on the ground. And, to the north was a dense, young Douglas fir forests that sheltered the bear and deer using the orchard.
It was raining lightly as I slowly worked my way through wet vegetation that was soaking me to the skin. I had to honor time and use great care getting downwind of the orchard because the wind was playing over the ridges and along the valley bottoms—swirling here and there and back again. The low, gray clouds heavy with moisture glide laboriously northward and eastward. With the wind finally blowing in my face, I crawled very slowly through foot-high grasses up the slope from the pond, which lay lower than the house and orchard.
Cresting the knoll, I saw two deer looking at me. I slowly raised my rifle. I was just taking up the slack in the trigger when there issued from the orchard a most fantastic belch—then another and another. Lowering my rifle, I studied the deer.
It slowly dawned on me that they were not standing under the apple trees—but leaning against them! After a few moments observation, I walked up to them, slowly at first and ready to shoot, then with casual abandon. Both deer gazed stupidly at me with glassy, sightless eyes, and slobbering muzzles. They were totally drunk from eating fermenting apples. So I left them to their hangovers, if deer get such things.
Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from my book, “Mammals of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coast to the Cascades.” Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR. (1998) 406 pp.
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