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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 beautiful. 
    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 sage. 
   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.

 
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