Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette
HAVE OUR SPACE-AGE WAYS ENTICED THE DEER BACK?
By Forest J. McComb
In 1832, when pioneers came into Allen and other Northeastern counties of Indiana, they found both Indians and deer on hand. The Indians were soon moved on farther west but the deer stayed for many more years, and then they, too, left.
As near as can be determined, the deer “gave up the ghost” about 1880 and were gone for some 70 years. No one expected them back, any more than we expected the Indians back. But they are back, in the face of more and more human population and civilization, and it looks like they are here to stay!
The deer, with their innocent eyes, bushy white tails, sleek brown coats of hair, and graceful movement of body, are much beloved by the human race. But so is venison, and only present conservation laws prevent them from being hunted right down to the last animal.
Without a doubt, deer played an important part in the survival of the pioneer. Finding full grown deer on hand to put meat on his table was a Godsend, indeed, to the hard-pressed pioneer and he took full advantage of it.
It cannot be determined exactly why the deer left the country. Some people think it was lack of food, some think indiscriminate hunting, while others think disease got in the herds. No doubt all of these may have played a part. Deer diet heavily on buds and brush, but he does need some grass and grain.
Were Deer Routed by Tight Farming?
In 1880, every inch of farm land was fenced and pastured by horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs. All field crops were stored in large barns and granaries – hay went in the mow, wheat and oat straw into large stacks, and cord fodder was cut, shredded or shocked close by, leaving little for the hard-pressed deer in winter months. Add to this no protection from hunters, and the deer decided to leave for better climes.
Our methods of farming have changed remarkable in the last 50 years. Using modern machinery and commercial fertilizers, one man does the work of what ten could accomplish years ago. New crops have been added and grown extensively, like soybeans and alfalfa, and deer thrive on both.
While the new machinery – the combine, corn picker, and hay baler – are very efficient, they are bound to leave some hay, straw, or grain in the field. It would be a poor deer indeed, that couldn’t roam any harvested cornfield and find stray ears. Many farms, today, have no livestock on them at all. So the woodland, fence rows, and ditches have grass available. Heavy use of fertilizers makes a luxurious growth of wheat, especially in the fall when it is very succulent. So, without any doubt, deer can eat much easier and better now than in 1880.
The first inkling of deer being back in our country came in 1950. A neighbor, GLEN HOOT, asked, “Do you know there’s a deer running with your cattle herd, back in the woods?” “No,” I said. “Well, there is! And it’s a young one about three or four months old.”
We watched for it and when the cattle came up one evening the little deer was with them, but his wild instinct wouldn’t allow him to come all the way. He turned around several hundred feet from the barnyard, and went back to the woods. Since that, seeing deer or deer tracks has become quite common. Once I was puzzled over tracks in a cultivated field, wondering which ones of the cattle herd were getting out. Then the answer came. It had to be deer tracks made at night.
I was plowing several years ago, and let the tractor stand in the field while I went to dinner. When I returned, I was surprised to see two full-grown deer pasturing in the field some 30 rods away. They saw me get on the tractor, but continued to feed until my collie dog came in sight. They then turned and ran making an uphill jump over a wire fence with ease and disappeared into a woods.
His Mowing Machine Flushed Two More
Last summer, starting to mow the same field, I flushed out two more looking like a mother and half-grown fawn. I’d stopped for something, and at first thought my dog was jumping up in the hay a few hundred feet ahead, but seeing the two, I recognized them for deer. I watched their antics for a while, and when I started the machine again they became alarmed and jumped the fence into the same woods.
Deer have an elastic leg tendon coupled to shoulder and hip, that enables them to make long jumps. The ordinary fence is no obstacle at all and they can roam where they please.
From our living room we’ve seen deer cross an open field to the south, from one wood to another, and it isn’t unusual to see them along roads – especially back roads, sometimes in herds of seven or eight.
My sister-in-law, MRS. WALTER GUMP, on Cedar Canyon Road, looked out her bathroom window, one day, and there stood a doe fifty feet away gazing at the house. She was in a group of four. They didn’t stay long, but high-tailed out of there for a safer place.
Now nature has made the deer to appear to be innocent as a lamb, but he’s not quite like that. For defense, he has three things going. First – his speed afoot gets and keeps him out of a lot of trouble. Second – if cornered, his horns are for fighting and not just an ornament! And third – he can use two sharp front hooves to chop an opponent to pieces in close quarters, be it another deer, a man, or a dog! But, he’ll never resort to the latter two unless cornered!
The deer here now are reported to have come from Southern Indiana, where stocking of deer was done, and from Michigan. The answer seems to be in food and conservation. Otherwise, one wonders why they’d try a comeback in this heavily populated area of man and machines? Deer are quick to catch on to protection from hunters. And take food – MERL AMSTUTZ, of the Union Chapel Road, watched through binoculars one beautiful day, saw four does with fawns move out of a piece of timber land on to a luscious wheat field.
The does dropped their heads into the tender green wheat and started nibbling right and left, while the fawns with nothing better to do, ran playfully around sometimes bunting each other. Finally, they ran straight down the field, going out of sight down a hill.
Soon, they came racing back, each calf seeking its mother where they nursed eagerly and bunted furiously, as if to say: “Look – we’re growing up! We can run out of sight and then find you again!”
The does, without raising their heads, kept eating placidly and accepted the nursing and bunting stoically, as if this was just another “Cross of Motherhood” to bear!
The procedure kept being repeated, until the satisfied does raised their heads and marched majestically back into the timber, followed by the fawns.
Deer thrived first in the county, in the region of Cedar Creek. The stream runs through northeast Perry and Cedar Creek Townships, and most of it is rugged country affording excellent cover for deer. The first deer crossing signs to be erected in the county as warning to motorists, were put up on State Roads 27 and 427 in this area. Conservation officer, MERL MOSS, says, “The first deer-car accidents in Allen County were always in the northern part, but they now come from all over the county, indicating that the deer are pretty well spread out.”
Estimates the country deer population to be 250 to 300 head. Deer move around and do not understand man and his machines. If a deer is determined to cross a road, and a car gets in the way, he’ll try to jump it. Sometimes they fail. There are more than 70 car-deer accidents a year, and Merl thinks the public should be more aware of the menace. For it’s a terrifying experience to suddenly have a deer across your hood, probably knocking out the windshield, and sometimes winding up inside the car. The average accident kills the deer and costs around $400 to $500 to repair the car.
Most people love the deer and are happy to have them here, and flexible conservation control of both archery and gun hunting can control the deer population to a point where they won’t become overstocked.
The curiosity of deer can get them into some amusing and sad situations. One day, JOHN DUNWIDDLE of Huntertown was doing some barbecuing. It was windy, and he set up the stand inside the garage. The first thing John knew, a full-grown doe stood at the door watching him. It is hard to say which was the most startled, John or the doe. She had scratches on her nose and legs and looked like she’d come through a briar patch. When John moved, the doe decided it was no place for her, and trotted out of town by way of the street and railroad track.
It’s bad for deer to get inside the city limits of Fort Wayne. Usually, the law is called, the idea being to capture or drive them out of town. Grownups, children, and dogs are apt to join the chase and the deer become frantic with fear. Several years ago, a deer jumped through a plate glass window at Sears, Roebuck & Company, creating chaos in the store and causing considerable damage by trailing blood on upset merchandise and carpets, as it was badly cut on the broken glass. So, too much civilization isn’t good for deer.
Deer are naturally a herd animal and will bunch during a time of stress. They did this last winter during the long spell of below zero weather. Larger and larger herds were seen until finally 27 head were counted in a field on the LLOYD GUMP farm in Perry Township off U. S. I 69. When the weather moderated, the herd broke up and spread out again.
It’s no secret that deer will work together for mutual protection. Lloyd had been seeing does frequently on the farm and one day, he was amazed to see a lone buck streaking fast and straight to the southeast. In about 10 minutes, a small black dog followed on the trail. It looked very much like the buck was deliberately drawing the dog on a long chase and away from the does heavy with fawns.
So to most folks, it is wonderful to have the deer around to see, study, and enjoy, but they are something like the old farmer’s comment about the fragrant smell of “new mown hay” poets rave about.
“It’s all right,” he said, “but don’t get too close to it!”