Sometimes humans expose fawns to mortal danger

(Patti Peterson photo)

It is not a reach to assume that ever since life came into being, the strategies of those being eaten have always progressed to outsmart the evolving tactics of those doing the eating. It’s a delicate balance.

I think of this undeniable scientific fact when it comes to a whitetail doe, and all the modifications and varied adaptations she must fashion to assure the survival of not only herself, but of her newborns in an environment filled with creatures that long to dine on the flesh of deer.

I recently recounted an afternoon spent with a grandson looking for wildlife in Tioga County during a long weekend visit to my camp he made with his dad, and the six instances of does with fawns we saw in or along the edge of farm pastures we drove near.

It was certainly special to both my grandson and myself to witness young whitetails near their mothers, knowing them new to the world, and adding to the local deer population.

There were, however, two other instances that same day of spotting does where we could not see fawns, and that always makes me wonder. Twice during that midday trip we saw does standing either within the high grass of a field, or next to it, with a farmer on a tractor with a mower attached, bearing down on the spot where the doe stood.

Coming so close to the adult deer with her standing her ground, I could only make the assumption that she had a fawn hidden in the nearby grass, one probably too newly born and unable to rise and follow the mother to safety away from the mowing machine. We all know how this encounter ends.

It is a sound strategy for a doe to hide newborns in thick cover, making it difficult for predators like coyotes, bobcats and black bears to locate them in their most vulnerable stage of life. In fact, this tactic has been studied enough times in field and forest by researchers resulting in sound conclusions that prove deer born in thick cover, be it new growth forests, dense underbrush or fields, have a far higher percentage of surviving to the size able to escape these predators than those born in open woods.

In the case of farm fields, which hide young exceptionally well, being born just prior to mowing time is simply bad luck for that fawn. I cannot in any way blame a farmer, because mowing fields when they are ready is part of their livelihood and must be performed.

I have read of prongs that may be fastened to mowers that protrude just far enough in front of the blades the will bump a fawn and cause it move out of the mower’s way. I don’t know of this device’s effectiveness or even if it has a high percentage of usage, but if a fawn is too small to react to this apparatus, it does not change the outcome of the encounter anyway.

Mowing deaths for fawns are really nothing more than another form of deer demise. It is sad to me, not so much because of the death — I could not be a hunter without understanding death — but more so because it is inflicted by man rather than nature.

This scenario defeats the evolved strategy of hiding a fawn in thick cover — it’s an action outside the survival equation, a circumstance beyond what Mother Nature prepared a doe for.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Ron Steffe, Whitetail Deer

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