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1962 - Walt Disney donates bison herd to Hart Park [story]
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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Oct 20, 2016
muledeer02

evelynevandersande_mugYou went deer hunting and shot one. Now what do you do if you want to know how old it was?

When I do research for these nature articles, I discover all kinds of interesting tidbits of information from a world unknown to me. It can be fascinating, what I stumble onto.

If you are a hunter and you want to know for sure the age of the buck you shot, you can remove one of his teeth from the lower jaw and send it to be analyzed. According to the cememtum layers on the tooth, like counting the rings on a tree, the age of your trophy can be known.

That was interesting. Hunting season varies each year, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife determines how many deer tags are going to be sold according to the deer population. Those sales help to fund research and management of California’s wildlife, including the enforcement of fish and wildlife laws, crucial habitat conservation, post-wildfire forest restoration, and wildlife migration and population studies.

You can also order buck and doe gland scent to give an edge to your hunting.

muledeer04Well, my research was taking me in quite a different direction than what I had in mind. As my hair started to stand on end, I quickly deleted those entries and went back to the reason I started this inquiry: “Rut season for mule deer is in the fall” – but when is that in Santa Clarita Valley?

It seems to change slightly with the weather each year, but mid-October to November seems to be a sure bet. The hunting season should happen after the rut is finished so the bucks have fulfilled their most important objective, which is to fertilize the doe.

It is the time of the year when a close encounter with a male and a human is potentially dangerous. It is rare … but humans, please do not block their way or scare them. Deer are peaceful creatures most of the year. But during the fall, bucks are on the move, looking for a doe to breed with. Often they do not even take time to eat; they fight the other bucks and have one purpose in mind, which is to reproduce. The survival of the species depends on it, and it is an overwhelming urge that should not be taken lightly.

The other time of year when one should not approach deer too closely is from early March to June. This is the time when the doe has just given birth or when the fawns are still very young. Her job is to protect them at all costs. If you or your dog come in her direction, she is going to have to take some action. Most of the time she will run away, but if she gets separated from her offspring, she might become more assertive.

muledeer01Do not assume that if you see a fawn on its own, it is because it needs to be rescued by you. Most of the time, the doe is in the area, waiting for you to go away so she can be reunited with her fawn.

Those are the times of the year when it is important to be aware of the behavior of deer that can take you by surprise. Who has heard of being attacked by Bambi?

We are entering the rut season for deer around the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. After the terrible Sand Fire, many deer have lost their habitat, but the pressure is on to get the deer population going so fawns can be born next spring.

Along Placerita Canyon Road, the deer population on Disney Ranch was protected from the fire. At the ranch, the crops and grounds are watered, and they have a steady deer population.

Many pockets of vegetation were spared from the fire. New vegetation is starting to appear, and the bucks are going to want to reproduce. This is the time of the year when you should slow down on Placerita Canyon Road, on Sand Canyon and the adjacent roads, as well. Be aware that a buck is not going to pay much attention to traffic if it has located a receptive doe. Please slow down.

muledeer03The other important thing to consider is that deer are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dusk (what we call the golden hour) and early in the morning. Making things even more difficult is that these are the times of day when you will have the sun in your eyes if you are driving, and your vision will be impaired.

They will also cross the road at night. That happened to me. Fortunately, I had time to stop the car because I saw the reflection of my car lights in the eye of the deer that was jumping to cross Placerita Canyon. I think I saw the same fear in the deer’s eyes as was in mine at that instant.

While they are crepuscular, if they do not have to fear human interaction, deer are also active during the day. Many hikers have recently posted the most beautiful photos of deer at East Canyon and Towsley Canyon.

One important factor is sometimes overlooked: Grasses are a principal food source only in the spring. In the summer, fall and winter, deer are browsers. That means they are eating tender shoots, young shrubs, buds and bark. Here are some of their favorite plants in the chaparral: ceonothus, sagebrush, mahogany, bitterbrush, and of course acorns are a big favorite. Right now acorns are plentiful.

So let’s go back to the rut topic. That is what happens to the male when the doe comes into estrus. It lasts only a few days, and the males will compete for her. The doe will come into estrus again if she does not mate.

How do you compete to get a doe if you are a buck? You have to look powerful and strong, letting the doe know her fawns will have the same characteristics you have, and will survive.

How do you do that if you are a buck? It does help if you have an impressive set of antlers on your head. In a mule deer (Odocoileus hermionus), the fork of the antlers grows in an upward direction; in some other deer, they grow forward.

The antlers start to grow in the spring on mature males who can reproduce. They will look glorious and very imposing during the rut, and the antlers will help when fighting against other bucks to win the attention of a female. They will be shed around December when they do not serve a purpose any longer. What a way to lose your crown.

There is much more to know about mule deer, and they are one of the most graceful animals when you see them on the run. They can do a stiff leg jump with all four feet hitting the ground together and can totally reverse direction in one jump. They can also rise in the air in the same jump and seem to fly. That is an incredible sight, and you’ll find your heart stops for a second, seeing so much beauty.

We are so lucky to live in this valley where there are still many pockets of green where deer can survive, reproduce and give us a glimpse of their beauty.

Many of us are still grieving over the devastation of the Sand Fire which robbed the animals and us of so much green on our surrounding hills. But don’t despair: Plants are starting to grow back, and we should follow this sign of hope that nature shows us. Rut season is on its way, and little fawns will be born in the spring.

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center since 1986. She lives in Newhall.

 

muledeer05

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1 Comment

  1. Melissa says:

    The warning to slow down is for all the canyon roads, especially in the National Forest. This includes Bouquet and San Francisquito Canyon Roads too.

    Thank you for your always interesting articles.

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