|Close Encounters of the
Desert Deer Kind
by Doug Tankersley
About 10 miles south of Umatilla, almost directly between Irrigon and
Boardman, lies the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge. This area has
several refuges in very close proximity to one another. Cold Springs
NWR and McNary NWR are all within a 30 minute drive. These reserves all
have healthy populations of deer, coyotes, bobcats, and badgers,
not to mention a variety of waterfowl and the associated raptor populations.
The deer are doing well.
I was on site about 6:45 AM and it was getting fairly light.
I had seen some small herds, mostly does, cross from the south side to
the north side of the road at around 10:00 AM on previous trips. So I decided
to start out on the north side of the road and wait a little longer.
I walked about 200 yards from the road and
came to a clearing in the sage brush where there were two very clear intersecting
game trails with relatively fresh hoof prints. I found a semicircle
of sage brush that offered a moderate amount of cover. The sunrise was
You set up your camera next to a pad that keeps
you off the cold ground, then wait. Sitting still is the hardest
part of game photography. You cramp up. My secret to attracting animals
to the lens is simple. Taking a nap has always seemed to bring the wildlife
to me. It didnít fail me this time.
I must have slept 30-45 minutes. When I awakened
there were some patches of white moving out there. A herd of does.
Then a car came along and the animals bounded out of sight into the surrounding
You must wait.
After a while, they returned, now coming in from another
angle. Trying to stay low, I moved the camera The wind was
to my back, taking my scent on a path directly intersecting theirs.
I had everything ready.. Just as the lead deer came up to the point
where I thought the wind was blowing my scent I saw two sets of ears go
up and look directly at me. I figured, it was all over at this point
They just stood there and stared in my direction.
I hadnít moved since they went on alert. They weren't sure. Then
I noticed something strange. As other deer intersected my scent trail,
they would stop go on alert and then start moving just a little closer.
The does, seven of them and a decent size spike buck, were doing a type
of leap frog in front of one another, apparently trying to figure out who
it was they were smelling. It seemed that if one deer got between
me and another deer, the deer furthest from me would move forward
to get a better scent.
This continued until they were no more than 20 yards distant.
There, they stopped the advance. They moved from side to side, and some
dropped back, then returned to the invisible front line they had established.
Buddhist monks can sit like statues for days, it seems..
So can Shaolin preists, Hindus and those marvelous Australian aborigines.
I can't. When I pulled a cramped leg out from under me, making
a fairly loud scraping sound across the mat, they charged off. I
figured they were gone, but I was wrong. They came back and checked
me out some more.
Eventually, they started moving away in a strange zig
zag manner. It almost seemed that they used their sense of smell
as a device to keep me located. As long as they could intersect
that scent in the wind, they knew where I was.
After the herd had disappeared over a rise, one old doe
trotted all way back to within 60 or 70 yards, squatted and peed, then
left to rejoin the rest.
A territorial display? By a doe?
I didn't know they did that sort of thing.
(C) 2002 Doug Tankersley Oregon Magazine contributed
to the text.