Published: Nov 10, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 10, 2012 04:31 PM
After seeing Bambi as a little girl, I assumed the forest was run by a grand buck that protected and dominated the entire deer herd. I remember dissolving into tears when the Great Prince told Bambi Your mother cant be with you anymore
Bolin Creek has its own grand buck that I have nicknamed Big Daddy. He is a huge 10-point buck that makes his presence known every year during the rut. He is massive, and shows little fear of humans as he raises his head and lifts his lip to better catch the scent of a doe in season.
Does he rule the herd, and oversee a harem of does? Not by a long shot.
Deer live in a divided society. The males often travel together in a loose-knit group that is very tolerant and amiable in the summer months. As the rut approaches, the males become quite agitated and belligerent. They go their separate ways, and will eventually battle it out with antlers and hooves for the right to mate with the females of the herd. This buck does not dominate the herd. The herd is ruled by a matriarch.
Since 2008, I have watched a very strong matriarch rule the Bolin Creek Forest. I have no name for her but the lop-eared doe.
A few years back, I noticed her for her damaged ear, and her large size. She showed her dominance at my approach. When the herd saw me, they scattered in all directions. The lop-eared doe stood her ground, huffed and stamped her feet at me, keeping me at bay until all of her does and fawns had found cover.
Last year, I witnessed another example of her dominance. The herd was gathered near some downed forest trees when a young two-point buck came bounding into their midst. The group scattered every which way, but our lop-eared girl stood unmoved, and turned her steel eye to the intruder. It was rutting season, and this tall young male strutted up to the doe as if he belonged. She gave him a loud snort, and charged him head on. He backed down immediately, and left the area. It is the matriarchs job to drive off any related males from her herd. In this way she keeps the gene pool strong.
All decisions are made by the matriarch. Orphaned fawns may be taken into the group at her discretion. She decides who will eat with her band in the lean winter months, and she guards her feed areas from outside deer. It would be the matriarch doe that took over the care of Bambi after his mothers demise, and not the Great Prince.
Our Bolin Creek girl is a good deal kinder than many other deer matriarchs. Many does will deal with a cheeky youngster with a sharp clip with their hoof. The lop-eared doe is more a protective parent than a disciplinary parent. She patrols her area while the youngsters take a noon nap. She watches for intruders, head up and vigilant, while her band grazes for acorns in a leisurely fashion.
Over the years, I have seen our grand dame age with grace. She is no longer the tautly muscled warrior of her youth. She is old. Her neck has hollows at her topline, and the sheen of her coat is gone. She is a rangy, sinewy girl now, but her spirit is not diminished in the least.
Some mornings I will find her standing alone by my front door, ever vigilant, as bold as she has always been. I round a curve in the trail and she stands before me. We halt a mere 15 feet from each other, and I take her picture as she gives me a single stamp of her hoof, as if to proclaim that she is still the queen of Bolin Creek forest. A final snort, and she returns to her herd, satisfied that I pose no threat.
The rut reminds me of our election process. The males have grunted, bellowed and locked antlers for months, but it could be the females who decide the best course for the herd. The lop-eared doe would never allow a buck to decide her fate.