Rarely does one return from a venture into the outdoors without at least a small reward. Occasionally, nature touches a person’s heart and soul in a lasting way.
And so it was last spring when I came upon a newly born white-tailed deer fawn. I was on my way home from a day of photographing deer when I spotted a doe and her fawn about 100 yards ahead, along the edge of an open meadow. The doe’s summer coat was the color of rust, a stark contrast to the green meadow grass in which she stood.
Next to her was a spotted fawn, an animal I would guess was just a few days old.
I surveyed the situation, and noticed a slight rise in the terrain that separated us. I took into account the wind direction and angle of the sun, and plotted a route that took me unseen to within 20 yards of the doe.
I tiptoed noiselessly through the succulent summer grasses, but my best Daniel Boone impression was not good enough. The doe’s eyes met mine when I peeked over the ridge. Ears cupped forward, the deer bobbed her head from side to side, attempting to decipher just what was staring back at her. Bringing the camera to my eye was all the motion necessary to send the doe into flight. Eating ground with leap after leap, she retreated a distance, stopped momentarily to snort and stare, then ambled off into the woods, showing little concern for the fawn she had left.
I approached the little deer, and was surprised to see it quickly lie down in the grass. It did not follow its mother.
It is typical of fawns to remain still in the presence of a predator. I crouched to snap a few photos.
With the fawn next to me, I took a few moments to study it. Its reddish coat, dotted with the typical white spots, did little to camouflage the deer against the green field grass. Had the fawn been in the woods, this same coat would have been nearly invisible against last year’s fallen leaves. The deer’s hoofs were tiny and would leave a heart-shaped track — so familiar to hunters and no larger than a nickel. The fawn’s wet nose wrinkled every few seconds as it sniffed. Big blue eyes stared into mine in a way that’s hard to describe. I wanted to gather up the little bundle and bring it home.
From past reading, I knew the fawn’s weight was about 6 or 7 pounds. I also knew the gestation period of the white-tailed deer is approximately 200 days. I figured the fawn was conceived sometime late the previous November or early December.
As I prepared to leave, the fawn rose to its feet and walked in the direction its mother had run while it uttered a soft call sounding like “mom.”
I walked home, wondering about the fawn’s chance of reaching adulthood. Its predators are many: timber wolves, black bears, coyotes, bobcats and even red fox and fisher will all take fawns, experts say. Humans, too, are a threat.
The fawn left a soft spot in my heart — and some memorable images on my hard drive.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors photographer and writer, lives near Brainerd.