Friday Classic | Hunting the Rut

“Dada, Dada look!” exclaimed my four year old. “The buck deer, um… with the pointy antlers… he’s smelling the girl deer’s BUTT! Ewwww… silly deer.”

“Yeah, they’ll do that sometimes,” I said, hoping my indifference would stop the inevitable line of questioning in its tracks.

“Why’s he do that?” he asked, undeterred.

“Well… uh… you see…” I stalled for time, trying to figure just how to put it..

“Look, look!” he interrupted my bumbling. “He’s trying to jump over her!”

“Yeah… um… so…”

There’s nothing like nature for tossing you a teachable moment, ready or not.

It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I realized what direction I should have taken the conversation. I was working the brush line along an irrigation ditch, trying to scare up a tender whitetail doe, and had found little more than barbed wire and cold wind, when a hint of motion drew my attention to the adjacent slope. With a sweep of my glasses, previously invisible mule deer materialized, alone and in clumps, amid the snow covered sage. More or less in the middle of the herd stood two sizable bucks, heads lowered. Their mutual animosity was palpable from five-hundred yards.

Mule deer season closed weeks ago in these parts. But my whitetail hunt hadn’t turned up any leads, and I’m a sucker for a good show, so I set about getting closer to the action. A subtle crease in the mountain offered good cover and a nearly direct route to the battleground. In no time at all I’d scurried within a hundred yards of the pair. On crawling out of my ravine I discovered that the watchful does had been onto me all along. They all gave me the wary stink eye from a safe distance. But not the battling bucks. There they stood, oblivious to the rest of the world. Through the binos I could see the tiny specks of snow and mud flying from their hooves, and the steam wafting from their rut thickened necks as they chased each other back and forth, and locked horns again and again.

Slowly, as the contest raged on, my initial excitement at the spectacle faded, and a new feeling crept in, something akin to embarrassment. For all of their passion and head banging drama, they were, when you come to the quick of it, acting like complete idiots. They were so single minded in their determination, and so fixated on domination, that they willfully placed themselves in mortal danger. I saw in their behavior way too much of my personal history and, I feared, a sizable chunk of my son’s future.

I wished I’d brought him along that afternoon, or that I’d been quicker on my feet with him earlier that morning. “See,” I wanted to tell him. “You’ll feel like that too someday. And possessed by the need to prove yourself – either for a girl, or your pride, or peer pressure or some other fool reason – you will be just as inclined to make spectacularly bad decisions as they are. You come by it honest. Just try to be aware of that. And remember, unlike mule deer, it’s always open season on stupid.”

It was an opportunity missed, but that’s alright. At least I now have another great excuse to bring him along on the next hunt.

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