Two friends of mine have deer who visit their yard on a regular basis. The does happily tolerate my friends’ presence in the yard, as they’re picking up sticks or watering the flowers. If, however, my friends have guests, and a guest goes into the yard — the deer bolt. I found that interesting, and wondered on what basis the deer judge some humans to be threats and some not. Do deer have extensive memories, I wondered? To find out, I ordered the only book I could find that seem to have a chapter on deer intelligence, Whitetail Savvy.
While I was waiting for it to come in, however, I read a book in my local library: Giant Whitetails. That shares stories of the author and his brother bow-hunting particularly sizable bucks, with a chapter following each tale on lessons learned. The bow-hunting aspect is an important part of this book, because it involves a lot more work and cunning on the hunter’s part. This particular author is an obsessive watcher of the fields, studying the contours of the land and the evidence of animals using it to figure out what trails deer use when, so he can find a good spot to lay in wait. An interest in hunting deer is probably a given in reading this book.
Whitetail Savvy, on the other hand, is a comprehensive study of deer — principally the whitetails that fill the forests throughout the United States, but with the occasional mention of western pronghorns and elk. The author is an award winning photographer and extremely seasoned student of deer, who has created quite the book here. After reviewing the various species of deer and their kin, Rue delivers information on deer anatomy and behavior, including the senses and emotions. Although I’m fairly inundated with the culture of deer hunting (most of my kin’s houses are decorated with buck heads, and even I have a big photograph of a deer standing near a foggy stream in my living room), I’ve apparently absorbed next to no actual information about deer. The photographs certainly merit mention; deer are inherently graceful and beautiful animals, and Rue’s photographs demonstrate that grace in many forms. His work also covers the. red in tooth in claw aspect of nature, however; with shots of cougars devouring deer, or of parasitical worms infesting the noses of deer. (You’re…welcome to that sudden mental image.) Although the section on deer intelligence was disappointingly slim, consisting mostly of anecdotes (in contrast to the tables of data present in other chapters; this is a serious study), I was fascinated throughout, and especially by the chapters on behavior.