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The Roving Sportman… The Good, the Sad, and the Really, Really Ugly

The next several weeks represent the peak time for the birth of new fawns. Usually, from now through mid-June, spring gobbler hunters and those who spend time in the woods may be treated to the amazing sight of a newly born fawn and enjoy a sight that most outdoors folks never see. But nature is not always perfect — far from it – as often the birthing and early weeks of the life of a new fawn are not always carefree with pleasant outcomes.

I was reminded of the sad truth just last Monday evening. With just an hour to go before sunset and darkness would settle in over the landscape, I watched a whitetail doe out the kitchen window as she stood in a fallow field some 80 yards from the house and 40 yards from the edge of the lawn. She remained in the same spot, and her head would disappear into the tall weeds, and then as she raised her head, she would be licking her lips. If she were feeding there, she would often have a mouthful of grass or greens as her head raised, but this was not the case — she merely licked her lips each time. Then it dawned on me that she had just given birth to a fawn and was cleaning it and stimulating it to become active. She would walk away several yards, turn around and repeat the process of licking the fawn. Finally, she walked away from the spot, and after waiting 15 minutes once she went out of sight, I slowly walked into the field, hoping to get a nice photo of a newly born fawn. It was typical of a doe to leave a newborn so that she would not draw the attention of any nearby predator. She would return sometime later to nurse and perhaps move the fawn to a new location. As I spotted the fawn, I eased closer, camera ready, and then my heart sank. It laid still, not a muscle moving — it was a stillborn fawn.

Standing there, I reflected back to years earlier as I watched two 350-pound male black bears walking through that same fallow field. It was early June, and they slowly and steadily walked 40 yards apart across the length of the field. I thought it a bit odd until I realized they were working together, slowly searching the tall grass and weeds for a newborn fawn. Then, early one morning the following spring, I was awakened by a terrible sound coming in through my bedroom window. It was the piercing cry of a fawn, and I knew instantly that a predator had found its prey. After sufficient time had passed, I slowly and noisily walked into the tall grass to discover the remains of a fawn that had fallen prey to a black bear.

Perhaps the really ugliest event I have ever witnessed in the wild happened one mid-morning in spring gobbler season about ten years ago. The early morning gobbling that had begun at daybreak had subsided, but I remained still, patiently waiting for a response to my intermittent calling. Then, in the distance, I heard a dog barking, and then a second dog joined in. The sounds grew closer, and suddenly, I glimpsed a doe running along a logging road, and in pursuit were the two dogs. As she passed by, I realized that a fawn was hanging from her, and her birthing process had been interrupted by the pursuing dogs. I did not see the outcome of the chase, but I could only imagine that this happens all too often when coyotes discover a doe attempting to give birth.

The good news is that all of these various occurrences, from stillbirth to predation and accidental deaths of young fawns, are but a small percentage of the total number of overall births. More often than not, the birth of a single fawn or the birth of twins or sometimes triplets goes off without a hitch, and the young fawns grow to be bucks or fawn-producing does in seasons to come.

For the next several weeks, you may be treated to witnessing the birthing of a fawn or come across in your travels the chance to observe a young fawn. If you happen to be in the woods or fields and stumble across a lone fawn, please avoid the temptation of “helping” the fawn just because you do not see a doe nearby. She will often hide her young and move away — usually still in sight of the spot. You may not see her, but she sees you! She will faithfully return to nurse the fawn and often move it to a new hiding location. Hopefully, you may get a couple of quick photos, but don’t stay long or try to get too close. Appreciate the fact you have seen what many will never see and move on quietly.