Through tangles of blackberry canes gallops a regal creature of the timber: Odocoileus virginianus, or the white-tailed deer. This one is a buck with cracked antlers, his coat birch brown. He sniffs the air before crossing the man-made paths. This veteran has survived so many hunting seasons because of his respect for orange vests and the pump of a twelve gauge shotgun. The whistle of a meadowlark shrills in a nearby gorge and the deer hops out of sight, perhaps to find an alternate path to the overflow creek where he can drink to his content.
No matter where I travel in the sprawling Sockum Ridge Woods in southeast Iowa, evidence of deer persists, whether in the form of flattened foxtail grass where a fawn hid from the strange newness of this world, a discarded antler on the winding path to Lookout Hill, or the beating sound of a herd moving through the hickory and oak trees to a safer location. At the turn of the 20th Century the white-tailed deer was hunted to devastatingly low numbers, but a regulated hunting system and conservation programs saw a steady proliferation in many sections of the United States. In Sockum Ridge, if you sit long enough in one spot and acclimate yourself to nature, you will surely see the white-tailed deer moving over the carpet of dead leaves, silent as Sunday School. If you are lucky enough, you will spot the patriarch of the royal family: the twelve point buck. Continue reading Path of the Veteran Deer by Lucas Shepherd