Friday, February 17, 2017

Sick Deer

One evening last week I had an interesting encounter with a Whitetail Deer.  I had just set my tools down and was walking forward to take some before photos of a planned work area, when I spotted a buck deer about 30 feet up the hill from me.  The deer was trying to shed its antler by pushing it against a thick grape vine.  It was obvious from first glance that the buck was not exhibiting the behavior typical of a healthy deer.

The antler slipped from the vine and the deer lurched forward, the grape vine now arching above its neck.  Here it stayed for several minutes.

The deer was breathing heavily and its eyes were kept partially closed.  At this point I thought the deer might just be exhausted from trying to dislodge the stubborn antler.

After its rest, the deer circled around and came at the grape vine again.  It had no better luck this time and circled around for a third try.

Leaving the deer to its business, I went ahead and took a few photos of my planned work area.  I heard some branches breaking and turned in time to see the deer stumble away from the grape vine, get tangled in a small shrub and stagger down the hill to fall right on top of my tools.

The deer stayed down for about a minute before getting back on its feet.  Its body looks to have lost a lot of muscle.  It was here that I began wondering if the deer was just on the downhill end of a long life or if it was diseased.

After standing for a couple of minutes, the deer began to walk in a tight circle.  The video above shows part of its roundabout journey.  Before filming, I was able to sneak in and get my bow saws and tool bag out of the way, but each time I moved in, the deer lunged in my direction.  Not wanting to risk a deer related injury, I left my pole saw and gloves to fend for themselves.  The deer seems quite adept at stepping on the pole saw on each circuit.

Eventually, the deer worked its way down the trail.  In the half hour between the taking of this shot and sundown, the deer traveled about 60 feet and fell down four times.  The following morning I found the deer another 200 feet down the trail.  It was down and didn’t look like it would be getting up again.  I reported the presence of a potentially diseased deer to the local Wildlife Officer who arrived to put the deer out of its misery and collect samples to be tested for disease.


  1. A sad encounter, but part of the cycle of nature....

    An aside: our dogs love to find deer antlers and use them as chew sticks. They can be bought in pet shops and are quite expensive for small sections of antler.

    1. Hi, Lois. When my daughter was young, she had a hamster that made a lot of noise at night. I put part of a shed antler in its cage and the hamster then spent most of the night quietly chewing.

  2. These are not the kind of encounters with nature that I think of when trying to improve our two acres for wildlife.

    Yes, sad...and, yes, part of nature...just not the beautiful part that I enjoy.

    I recall coming across a deer in our yard that was lying down--apparently peacefully. After taking a few pictures, I realized that it had a broken front leg--or was favoring it...I can't quite remember.

    I liked to think that it found comfort in our yard where it may have felt safe. Of course, my taking pictures scared it into a standing pose, which is when I realized that it was injured.

    1. I've had encounters with many species of injured or diseased animals, but it's still a rare event. Once they begin to fail, most animals don't live long. We're much more likely to run across the remains of an animal carcass, than we are to actually find the dying animal.

  3. I am glad you called a wildlife officer.

    1. Hi, David. The Ohio Division of Wildlife encourages people to report deer that are behaving oddly or appear to be sick. They put a lot of effort into identifying serious illnesses with potential to threaten the wildlife of the state. Also, since the legal season for hunting deer had ended, it would not have been legal for me to perform a mercy killing.