Through the years, Cedar Ridge has produced some colorful, wildlife characters. We have had tame Fishers, Red Fox, Gray Fox, numerous birds, interact with us... but non so endearing as the White-tailed Deer we call Black Buck.
The Black Buck showed up as a first year twin fawn in the winter of 2005. He and his brother were orphans from either the fall hunt, wolves or highway 61. The little guy and his brother hung around our house each day, yarded up in our white cedars with a few other deer.
Each morning and before dark, I would bring them a bucket of corn in the front yard as a treat from a day of browsing. Blackie was precocious from our first meeting; when I would walk out with the corn, he would be first in line with his head in the bucket. I told Mary, that I hoped he had more sense when he wandered the forest, especially during the hunting seasons.
The advent of warm weather and the snow melt, signals the "inland deer" departure. The angle of the sun on February 13, starts the drip of icicles and the melt of snow on southern exposures. Especially along the steep ditches of highway 61, adjacent to Lake Superior. March and the first weeks of April, are dangerous times for drivers on highway 61. At times, I have counted deer by the dozens along the sixteen mile stretch of highway to Grand Marais. This "melt", signals the large number of deer in the "Jonvick Deer Yard", to begin their slow migration back inland for the summer months.
Blackie left in April that first spring, along with his brother and a few friends. I remember it was a particularly nice day, I told Mary I was going to have a "talk" with them about leaving. I gave them their last corn treat and told them it was time to go... no more corn until January of 2006. Blackie ate out of my bucket for the last time and I wished him a safe journey. A couple of his friends came back the next day, but he and his brother never returned... bizarre, I know.
We do have what I call "local deer" hang out through the summer months. I am in the forest every day and I see very few deer anywhere on the ridge during the summer. I have never seen my friend Blackie any time during the summer and fall, nor any other deer that winter with us.
I am constantly busy during the summer and fall, chronicling the advent and departure of song birds, especially the Wood Warblers. The thousands of photos and editing keeps my mind off past bird and animal departures. It is not until the middle of October or so, that I think of my friend Blackie and wonder of his safety and location. Firearm deer season usually begins the first weekend of November. At that time, I take a hiatus from wandering the ridge as I would be "running the gauntlet" of blaze orange hunters. I have pretty much given up "pulling the trigger" on deer, Ruffed Grouse or hunt any other bird or animal. Not that I have altered my views of others hunting. When you have snowshoed through a herd of deer with a camera... or sat and photographed a drumming grouse on the same log, I now find I haven't the heart to hunt them. I have had deer follow me home through the forest in the dead of winter and Ruffed Grouse hop off their drumming logs and walk with me to the edge of their territory... so now I hunt with a camera and actually get much closer to these magnificent creatures, in more ways than one.
Every year since the winter of 2005 Blackie has returned home, except the winter of 2007. I will never know the reason why he didn't return that winter, but he never showed up. The January of 2008, I was sitting in my chair watching television and a deer walked up on our patio. I did a double take, because low and behold, this skinny, geeky deer staring at me through the glass was my friend Blackie. I jumped up and opened the door and yelled "Blackie." He stood there and waited for me to put on my jacket and grab my empty corn bucket. I went out our side door and headed for the garage to fill up the corn bucket.... on my heels, strolled the geeky one in his own slow fashion, following me to the garage. He stood outside and waited patiently, I held out the bucket and he immediately stuck his head in it... my old friend had returned home for the winter, missing an entire year.
Each year I expect not to see his return. Bow season, firearm deer season and now with the addition of black powder muzzle loading season, the hunt is on from September into December. Plus Gray Wolves and highway 61, add to the dilemma of the White-tail's longevity. So it is always a pleasant surprise to see Blackie wander in, usually the second week in January. I wrote a post earlier on this blog, discussing if his survival was that of luck or intelligence. As years have passed, I believe it is definitely luck, but after observing his demeanor and alertness, he never misses a sound or scent. He is truly a furry, alarm system.
Other deer follow him home, we usually have eight or so, I don't want to feed a "herd" of deer for various reasons. So I will feed Blackie out of a bucket and give a couple of the little first year "goats" as I call them, some treats. His buck friends, fight over the residue while Blackie stands on guard, always alert. He is the kindest buck I have observed, he doesn't rear up and beat the little deer and does with his hooves. Rather, he avoids any conflict all together... walking away and constantly watching. I told Mary, "I see why he has survived these past seven years."
This year was a bit disconcerting as Blackie returned the last week of November for his seventh year. Disconcerting, because muzzleloading season was still open into December. This was the first year I didn't recognize him as he was sporting a spectacular, fifteen point rack. Every other year, he would return in January having shed his antlers. Mary and I saw this beautiful buck walk into the yard and stand looking at the house. I quickly ran to get my camera as this was one awesome looking buck. I carefully shot some photos through the glass door so I wouldn't scare him. We both silently moved from window to window, trying to figure out how to get a window open for an unobstructed photo. We both were admiring and counting the fifteen point rack, until I carefully looked at his head and ears. Focusing on his right ear, I noticed the tell tale "notch" that Blackie had acquired at one point in his seven years. Finally, we had gotten to see what the old deer looked like in all his buck-like splendor. I opened the door and talked to him and as always, he followed me to the garage for his corn treat. Now the trick was, to get him through the rest of the hunting season......
Blackie didn't keep his antlers for very long, one day he walked up on the front lawn with one antler. I had seen him not long before with both antlers, so I knew it couldn't be far from our house. I went out and walked a short distance down the hill and sure enough, it was protruding nicely out of the snow. The next day he walked up and shed the remaining antler on the lawn. We thought it kind of him to leave us his memorabilia. We are now trying to figure out an appropriate way to display them in our house.
This year was a particularly difficult and cold winter, the deer browsed heavily and the wolves had a record year in deer kills on my ridge. Blackie again survived the hunters, weather and wolves... he departed in April, he didn't leave leave leading the other deer as usual, but hung around and spent late afternoons with me. I told him it was time for him to leave and find his inland "safe house." I would love to have a GPS attached to him so I would know where he goes and where he hangs out.
In retrospect, maybe watching, waiting and anticipating an old friends return is more appropriate and heartwarming... we will see.
"I ask people why they have deer heads on their
walls. They always say because it's such a
beautiful animal. There you go. I think my
mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her."