Weeks ago, a neighbor phoned one evening. Her first words . . . “We’ve got poachers.”
Black-tailed deer are part of our rural scenery. Their lives play out in secrecy, with rare glimpses—a newborn fawn, too weak to move into cover at sundown, lying motionless under an oak while we worried for its well-being (the doe was never far away).
Their main predator is the automobile, but now “We’ve got poachers.”
She described a doe that had come to her house, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Had I noticed anything suspicious, or heard gunshots close by? I hadn’t. We live on a graveled road that’s fairly secluded; deer browse on either side of it during the year. Then she said “her fawn’s not with her,” and I knew.
I told her of a doe that had appeared periodically at our back door during the past two years, always curious if we had oats or apples to share, and I mentioned that this deer was especially friendly. (I’d picked a burr off her head the last time she’d visited.) And then I listened as my neighbor told her story, a deeper tale about the doe’s rescue when it was an injured fawn, how it was bottle-fed to health, and how she and the deer had adopted each other. How it played with her dogs.
After she’d rung off, I pictured the doe in my mind, wearing a lovely summer-brown coat (her new fawn, too), and realized I was already thinking of her in the past tense. A bullet wound to the shoulder is a shocking trauma, something few deer survive.
In the days following our conversation I saw the fawn twice; without her mother nearby, she was quick to flee into the woods. Days became weeks, the busy buzzing of holidays arrived, and while I kept a hopeful eye out there was no sign of deer. I hadn’t spoken to my neighbor again (I didn’t want to hear the bad news I was expecting).
Christmas day was sunny and cold, warmed by a house full of grand- and great-grand children. Every one of us received a wonderful gift in the afternoon, when I happened to look outside. A doe was nosing around behind the parked cars . . . and on her shoulder, a triangular patch of hair was growing back, marking the spot where she’d been shot.
My wife took oats outside, and the story continues.