Thursday, December 8, 2016


To those who are squeamish, don’t want to acknowledge that nature is “red in tooth and claw”, or think of white-tailed deer as “Bambi” come to life – DO NOT READ FURTHER!

The body lay at the edge of the old woods road; it was an adult male, at least 3 ½ years old, he would have been a handsome fellow – but now he was dead.

The buck was at the bottom of a short hill below a dense patch of 10-12 foot high hemlock and white pine growing beneath larger trees.

Here's how I found him –

He was in full rigor mortis, which, at the existing temperature would probably mean that he had been dead for somewhere between eight and 36 hours

A bear or perhaps coyotes had fed on the organs of his abdominal cavity and some of the larger muscles. Blood had pooled in the abdominal cavity but had not yet fully coagulated –

There were no external wounds other than where the body had been fed upon. What killed the buck?

On the hillside above the body there was a drag mark through the leaves where the buck had been dragged down to where it now lay, probably by a black bear. Along this trail were occasional tufts of hair that had been pulled out as the buck was dragged over rocks or fallen limbs – but no blood.

I followed the drag mark into the thicket of conifers where after a short distance it ended. The thick carpet of dry fallen leaves would have clearly shown if the buck had been dragged from further away. And still there was no blood.

Circling the end of the drag mark in ever larger loops, I didn’t find an extension of the drag mark, nor a blood trail, nor a patch of disturbed leaves as would be expected if a bear or coyotes killed the buck – and still no blood.

The buck lay in an area normally closed to hunting,  about ¾ mile from a road open to traffic, this was several weeks before firearms deer season would open but the season was open for users of bows and crossbows. He could have been wounded by a trespasser's arrow or crossbow bolt or by a poacher along the road, or hit by a vehicle. He died just after the rut had reached its peak, so he could have been gored or injured by another buck as discussed here - but there was no nearby sign of a battle between two bucks. Whatever caused the injury it must have been on the buck's right side.

However he was injured, he apparently took shelter in the thick conifer cover where he died. In all probability a bear found the buck not long after he died and dragged the body to where I found it.

Nothing goes to waste in the natural world, so now the buck’s feeding predators (which find it easier and safer to feed on the already dead than to kill live prey) and scavengers –

So the answer to the question “What killed the buck?” remains a mystery.

The buck presented an opportunity to set a camera trap to capture photographs of what might come for a meal at an earlier stage than the last dead buck I’d found. Photos from that opportunity were posted here.

But with hunting seasons for bear and deer just about to start, the deer would have to be dragged well away from the old road before I'd consider leaving a camera trap to watch over the body. That wasn’t about to happen because a recent fall had demonstrated, for the second time in three years, that an old guy's ribs don’t bend - they break - and they take longer to heal than they did 40 years ago

So, there the buck remained to intrigue or disturb passers-by and feed many other things from bears to bacteria.


The Furry Gnome said...

Very interesting look at an aspect of nature we tend to block out.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, poor buck. Back in Maryland we used to have many poachers, maybe this buck was injured but was able to run away till it finally died. Then became dinner for the other animals. Just a wild guess. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Sunday, enjoy your new week ahead!