© L. Peat O’Neil 2009
Flipping through a hook and bullet magazine while collecting articles for my nature writing students, I learned that hunters should wear bright pink. Shocking pink is invisible to deer, yet easily distinguished by humans forging through winter woods. Will he-men with guns wear hot pink?
I’ve shadowed deer in genuine wilderness and protected pseudo-wilderness, “Quasi” because if a human can get there easily, it’s not true wilderness.
Mostly, the deer I stalk live in and around their own gated communities — semi-suburban enclaves, parks, state controlled nature areas. The deer are my neighbors, live closer to me than some of my siblings. I know where the deer hide in regional parks and preserves, but that’s not saying much, since they parade with ease along highways, across lawns for gourmet ornamental shrubbery, and into town for brief celebrity in local news rags. You’ve seen the photos when a deer leaps through a store-front window, spooked by its own reflection.
When I am in their territory, I follow the paths graven by their hoof marks or marked with scat. Deer paths emerge as a distinct line of scuttled leaves in the ground cover of fall and winter, a muddy track in spring, or flattened grass in summer. Nearly every walk along their byways, I’ll see the twitching white plume of a tail. I’ve seen leaping solitary bucks, herds of doe that nuzzle their young and lie close. Near an erratic outcropping of rock at the end of a shuffled leaf trail, the moss is upturned. I wonder do they have enough to eat?
As the skeins of forest thin and break at the hands of developers, the deer hew to tightly plaited paths where they can no longer roam widely. The deer paths demonstrate an intelligence and instinct. Within hailing distance of convenience stores, ramblers, schools and skating rinks, the deer-ways curve with the land using topography or fallen trees for cover.
When deer are wild in the woods, they retain the shroud of mystery; when they are common as pigeons or rats, they lose their immunity lodged in beauty.
Is there an answer for the crowded suburban deer who live along your backyard fence? More state sponsored deer-kill seasons with volunteer hunters dressed in pink?
White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, with their vulnerable Audrey Hepburn eyes, turn your heart when you see them shadowed on a lawn or poised to leap a roadside barrier. But to a homeowner or driver, they signal disaster, even death. Deer darting across country byways cause crashes. My mother’s Hosta collection were midnight snacking grounds for the deer until she moved all the plants to a fenced garden.
The deer have a four million year history, got along just fine with the indigenous residents and our immigrant forebears. When did enough room to roam become nowhere at all?
I know deer are losing their fear of humans. I don’t need to wear pink to be invisible. They’re used to my scent. The foals are complacent, stand and stare back, their only display of authority to strut in place with their white tails at half-mast.
With deer living in parks, fool-‘em strips of trees along the highways and suburban vest-pockets woods, they’ve become semi-domestic fixtures, like goats or dogs. They live with squirrels and ground hogs and opossum. And die like them too, as road-kill. A neighbor butchers fresh deer killed by motorists and gives it to the food bank for poor folks.
Is it heretical to think we need more deer hunters? Somebody needs to thin the herds that have resulted from rapacious outer suburban development. I’ve never hunted, but lately, I’ve been thinking of learning how to shoot. I’d look great in hot pink hunting cammis.
Portions of this blog post were published in a longer essay on the subject in Potomac Review, Summer 2001, Number 31.