Passing the buck in the backyard
I no longer pay much attention to deer. Not unless they run in front of my car or try to hide under my bed. The Ackerman Family is WAY past the “Look, honey, there’s a deer!” stage of our lives and have slipped comfortably into the “Look, honey, there’s another damned deer in our back seat!” stage.
Deer outnumber residents in my neighborhood 10 to one, and the margin is growing. Mostly, I suspect, because we seem to be killing all of the mountain lions, so the only deer predator left is an automobile.
Last Friday, however, was a bit different. According to eyewitness accounts, two very large bucks staged a death match in my backyard, not far from my propane tank. My neighbor said the fight spilled into the street as she tried to break it up with a garden hose. “It was horrible,” she’d later report. “It sounded like two mattresses were hit together.”
I’d never heard the sound of two mattresses hitting together before, but I guessed it was pretty awful in our otherwise quiet neighborhood, where the only loud sound generally comes from my house as my daughter reminds me for the 100th time to put the toilet seat down.
Deer experts say it’s mating season and that the two bucks were probably fighting over a woman. I understood that. When I was a young buck, we used to butt heads over women, too. That’s how I lost the hair on the front part of my head.
Apparently, the two bucks in my yard were fighting over one hot doe because neither one of them would let up. Not even when my neighbor tried to spray them with the hose and threw rocks – a very primitive version of a cold shower.
Anyway, the larger buck eventually got the upper horn because my neighbor said he knocked the smaller one onto the street, where he must have fallen hard enough to break his leg. I’d later learn that it was a compound fracture.
The victorious buck strutted off to claim his prize, leaving his wounded adversary struggling to get up. He would eventually make it back to my yard, where he collapsed.
One of my neighbors called me at work to let me know there was a badly wounded buck in my yard and that they’d been trying without success to get someone to come and rescue it. In a follow-up e-mail, she said she’d been on the phone almost three hours looking for help before she realized that it was on my property.
“A couple of wildlife activists said they would come if it was a doe,” but that they don’t really rescue bucks. “Isn’t that sexual discrimination?” she wondered. A wounded buck can be extremely dangerous.
“I called 16 government agencies to help us out,” she told me by e-mail. “Nothing but the runaround. My last call was to the Sheriff’s Office, who said, ‘Do you have a gun?'” She said that if I called the sheriff’s department they could dispatch someone to come out and shoot it, but that I’d have to pay another guy $200 to take it away.
That’s when a second neighbor found a hunter willing to come over after work, shoot it and haul it away. But only if it was still alive when he got there. Venison doesn’t taste very good if the deer’s been dead for awhile. You’ve got to clean it out and pack it out as soon as it dies.
I know … it doesn’t sound very sensitive … but we live in the wild (and happen to have microwaves, cable television and air conditioning), and stuff like this happens all the time in the wild. It’s survival of the fittest. The wounded buck would die anyway. His leg was horribly broken and he was suffering. The only question was when, and I was hoping he’d hang on until 5 p.m., when my neighbor’s friend said he’d come over, kill it and haul it. If I had to do it I would have had to drag the dead buck up the street to another neighbor’s yard at midnight and probably get busted.
“What you got there, Jeff?” one of my neighbor’s might ask.
“Just a buck,” I’d answer.
“I’m training for a dead buck dragging contest and this is my second time around the block.”
I pulled into my driveway just in time to hear a “pop” from a gun or rifle. It sounded like an awful weak “pop” for something that was supposed to kill a buck. I ran through the front door and my wife and daughter were near the back deck, watching as the deer hunter administered the final shot from his .22 caliber. They said he first walked up on the buck when it was on the ground and shot it once in the head, but that it got up and started running away, compound-fractured-leg and all. He shot it several more times before it finally succumbed down near the little creek that runs along my house.
That was one tough buck.
“I was going to bring my .357 but I didn’t want to do that in this neighborhood,” the hunter told me. “I didn’t expect that buck to be that tough.” He backed up his truck and loaded the buck into the bed, promising his friend a few steaks. I thanked him for handling the buck and he drove off.
If there was a lesson in all of this, I suppose it’s in the recognition that our human and deer populations will continue to grow and that there will be more and more conflicts. And when they do happen, it’s always a good idea to look for ways to pass the buck, even if that means passing him to a neighbor’s yard.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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