It was with innocent intent that I set out to snap a distant photo of two spotted fawns, their delicate faces and alert ears just visible over the grasses in the spacious yard.
But what I encountered was new to me and had me apologetically backtracking to safety.
A deer’s retina is composed almost entirely of rods, enabling them to see well in the dark, but inhibiting their ability to recognize still objects. This doe was the look-out in what turned out to be a small band of three does and two fawns.
When I stopped to snap her picture before moving a little further to capture the fawns, she turned to face me and began a stiff-legged, slow-stepping approach. I wasn’t sure what this meant and mistakenly thought, being still was the way to avoid disturbing her. But this is not entirely the case. As I stood still, snapping her photo, she continued her stiff-legged steps toward me. Then came a loud “blow”. This I had never encountered before. Was she going to charge? Certainly, she was tense. By the second blow, seconds later, I began my retreat to a safer distance. She snorted one more time and continued to watch me in stillness.
According to Leonard Rue, author of The Deer of North America, both the blow and the stiff-legged approach are designed to encourage an intruder to move so she can get a better look at the threat. Deer don’t flee blindly. They investigate so that they know which way to run for safety. While, in hindsight, I think this deer was doing just that, investigating and letting her band know there was an intruder near, I did ask a nature photographer friend if he had ever been charged by a doe. The answer was “yes.”
It’s always a good idea to follow one’s intuition.