Gracie’s low growl alerted me that deer were coming to feed. They do that every afternoon near dusk. They start at the hill next to my property, where I have a feeding station in good weather. But in the winter, I move the feed to the north side of my land, where it’s less hilly and easier to access.
On this day, my three regulars sauntered along at the back of my property. Two grazed along the fence; the third went through the pines. I wondered if they were the culprits popping off my Christmas lights that I’d find in the fresh snow each morning. The deer were barely visible.
What I hadn’t realized was that another group of deer was already occupying the feeding station. This outlier from that group intently watched the approaching interlopers. The deer’s body was rigid and leaning forward; its ears were cupped forward. Clearly, it was on alert.
As the interloper approached, the outlier stood its ground, but seemed to relax a bit. The two deer came close, but their movements didn’t seem to indicate aggression. It appeared similar to how two dogs sniff each other when they meet on the street.
I switched windows to get a clearer view of the feed block area. One deer clearly had dominion of the block, but three others were approaching. I noticed at least two of the deer’s ears were in drop position, laid back. This is a lowest level of threat that deer employ against each other. I wondered if the threat level would increase as others tried to share the feed block.
My hunch was correct. As soon as one of the approaching deer moved toward the feed block, the deer who’d already been eating there, turned on it and chased it away.
But that wasn’t the only jousting that was going on among the herds. Away from the feed block, another deer rose on its hind legs and flailed at another to show its dominance.
Not to be outdone, the other deer flailed back. Luckily, little contact was made between the two deer and they didn’t spar further.
The whole encounter between the two deer groups was brief, lasting no longer than six or seven minutes. One group finally ambled off into the woods and left the remaining group to savor the deer block among themselves. In a typical winter I put out two different kinds of deer blocks, but I hadn’t put out the second block because this winter has been so mild. Perhaps it’s time to widen the feeding area to accommodate the number of deer that want to feed.