We’re approaching mid-January, the time of year when the Following Deer Creek (FDC) Project first came into being (2017). Like the Earth circling around the Sun and the planetary water cycle, we’ve completed a journey.
I set out to tell the story of the Deer Creek watershed from its tectonic and cultural origins to the people and animals who live in it today. Working backward, I posted blog articles as I researched in preparation to compile the film.
In early January of 2021, the film was complete. Like the FDC blog posts, it’s a birds-eye view of the watershed that hints at depths.
I smile when I think back to the initial idea seed. Of course, there is no one story, there are more than can ever be told.
FDC and the Aerial Views film is a decent outline, but it also illustrates how much more remains for investigation and study.
The word ‘deer’ is an irregular noun. It is used for both single and multiple animals. Deer are also crepuscular, active during twilight hours.
Of the six subspecies of mule deer living in California, Nevada County is home to two; the California mule deer (west side of Sierra Nevadas to the southern coast) and the Columbia black-tailed deer (Northern California through the Pacific Northwest). Since black-tailed deer are the species roaming through my yard, they are the main subject of this article.
History & Range
The Columbia black-tailed deer is also known by the names; Pacific buck, Columbian deer, coast black-tailed buck, and black-tailed deer. It is a subspecies of Mule deer and will cross-breed with the California mule deer and Rocky Mountain mule deer where habitats overlap.
In 1846, an Oregon Trail traveler noted black-tailed deer as far west as Wyoming. Today their range is smaller. It includes northern California, Oregon, Washington, some parts of coastal and interior BC as well as the Alaskan panhandle.
Except for breeding season (November – December), does and bucks live in separate groups.
Female groups of related individuals are led by a dominant (alpha) animal, usually the eldest mother. She chooses foraging and birthing grounds. The alpha female is usually the first to mate during mating season and she generally chooses to stay close to her mother’s territory, leaving it only if forced.
Males leave their mothers between a year-and-a-half and eighteen months old to seek bachelor groups.
New antlers (bone protrusions) are grown each spring and shed every winter.
Antlers are grown out with a ‘velvet’ covering, a living structure with blood vessels. Once it dries and antlers harden, bucks rub them against trees to remove the velvet. A buck’s age is reflected in the number of forks. Antlers are used for sparring and determining social position as well as for mate competition.
Communication methods include vocalizations, scent, and pheromones. Glands between the toes, and near the knees (hock) create trail marking and individual recognition signals while glands outside the lower legs produce alarm scents.
In California, at higher elevations, some herds of black-tailed deer migrate. Locations of forage food and snow levels determine their movements.
In Nevada County, below Nevada City, seasonal herd movements do not cover great distances.
The black-tailed deer life span is approximately 7 years (in the wild), reaching sexual maturity between 1-2 years.
Males are polygynous, they’ll mate with multiple females.
Female gestation lasts between six to seven months, with fawns born May – June.
For the first week after birth, fawns have no scent. This allows the mother to leave her babies to replenish her body weight and produce adequate amounts of milk for her young.
Caution: Mothers with fawns view humans as predators.
Like cattle, sheep, giraffe, goats, and antelope, deer are cud-chewing grazers. With teeth and mouthparts specialized for breaking down cellulose as well as a digestive compartment housing bacteria necessary to turn plant material into protein, volatile fatty acids as well as vitamins B and K, deer spend the early morning and dusk hours grazing and afternoon and evening hours, bedded down, regurgitating, and giving food a second chew.
Spring and winter diet includes;
Bark & buds
Late spring and fall diet includes;
Fruit (blackberry & apple)
Rumination – Chewing Cud
Grazer gut bacteria often match soil microbes. Eating and defecating perpetuate healthy regeneration cycles for both plants and animals.
Grazing to Heal the Earth – Grasses & Ruminants | 3:14 Chewing Cud
Deer Hunting Industry & Income Generation
In California, Deer hunting permit sales generate around $450 million dollars annually, attracting between 165 – 200K hunters.