Don’t Pet the Deer

I can add deer to the list of mammals I eye warily in the backcountry

By Kellyn Brown

On a recent hike with friends near Whitefish, a deer emerged from the brush and blankly stared at us like deer often do. But instead of scampering off, like deer often do, it charged. Our group was slow to react. After all, deer are considered passive creatures. They apparently are not.

The two dogs accompanying us didn’t help matters. The deer eyed both of them before deciding which one to attack first. Then the animal gave chase, pounding its hooves just feet from the canines as they barked and ran in circles. The pet owners screamed, but no one listened.

When it appeared the ordeal had ended and the dogs were about to be re-leashed, round two was upon us. The deer again bounced. More barking. More hoof pounding. More screaming. Finally, a member of the group threw a plastic water bottle at the doe, which momentarily stopped the fight. But if animals could talk, I imagine this one would have said, “Is that all you got?”

The dogs were now leashed. But as we slowly continued up the trail, the deer maintained its pursuit at the same pace, daring us to turn around. My pumping adrenaline was mixed with confusion as we continued our out-and-back. The key word here is “back;” we would be returning to this portion of the trail in about an hour’s time.

“There’s no way the deer will still be there!” I shouted, although I had no idea what I was talking about. I hadn’t been that spooked in the woods since running into a moose in Glacier National Park, ironically with the same hiking partners (minus the dogs).

Speaking of the dogs, we kept them leashed as we descended the trail. It didn’t matter. The deer was still there — in the same spot we left it, staring at us. Waiting for us? I again imagined it speaking, saying something like, “Are you really going to do this? Are you really going to come back for more?”

“No” and “no” were our respective answers. We opted for an alternative route and theorized the rest of the way about what had just happened. The doe must be protecting a fawn. The deer hates dogs. The deer is having a really bad day.

Our encounter was by no means unusual. Browse YouTube and you can find a plethora of videos showing deer mauling people. And there are even more news reports of hikers and hunters being injured by the animal. Still, seeing one on a trail or the side of the road rarely strikes fear in anyone. After all, they’re everywhere.

Deer may be the deadliest animal in the United States, but those fatalities almost always involve car accidents, not random attacks. If you encounter one, chances are it will prance away. However, if it doesn’t, perhaps heed this warning.

After our two run-ins, we hiked the rest of the way with rocks in our hands — just in case. My aim isn’t great, so I wondered what good it would do if I really had to throw the thing. Fortunately, we didn’t confront any more animals along the way. Unfortunately, along with bears and moose, I can add deer to the list of mammals I eye warily in the backcountry.

Happy hiking.

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