What’s Your Strategy?
Wildlife take different paths to survival.
Each species has its own plan and within each tribe, individual members have unique personalities. Some stand and fight, some flee, some just plan on taking acceptable losses.
This time of year, all the strategies are on display as mothers play the game of survival attempting to get their young through the first few most challenging weeks of life.
Antelope and whitetail doe stand sentinel. The strategy is spread out and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. One fawn is left exposed in a plowed field, another in the short prairie grasses a quarter mile away. The clods of dirt left behind don’t leave much for them to duck down behind, but the plan is to hide in plain sight where the predators won’t think to look.
The fawn doesn’t move for hours at a time, only jumping up when it hears its mother’s call. After taking a short meal, it instinctively looks for its next hiding spot, setting out to find a slight depression or bowl that it can snuggle down into. It leaves its mother behind and journeys for a hundred yards before finding a suitable location. The grasses nearby can’t be too high, a fawn antelope uses speed and agility to outrun any threats and tall grasses keep its pencil-thin legs from accelerating. Two more weeks and it will have the strength and endurance to keep up with the herd, but for today it has only its mother’s sharp eyes and fortitude for protection.
The mule deer does form mobs. You challenge one, you challenge them all.
One of my favorite initiations for new hunters is to imitate a mule deer fawn in distress. Most have been conditioned by Disney movies to expect all creatures in nature to flee at the sight of man. They enter the woods or prairie with a weapon and the belief that they will only be offered glimpses of fleeing wildlife. But mule deer use the mob mentality to their advantage. When one of their young is threatened, they all charge in to intimidate and fight. For the new hunters to imagine themselves the supreme predator and then see a herd of deer charging is an unexpected adrenaline rush.
Muley does have the tools and attitude to back up their threats. I’ve seen them charge in and use their hooves to fend off coyotes and bobcats that made the mistake of attempting to take one of their fawns. Sometime coyotes hunt in mobs too and then a fawn stands little chance.
The harder your mother fights and the better they are at it, the greater chances young wildlife shave. In my area, the elk calf survival rate is unusually high with few predators that can fight off a cow elk. Six hundred pounds of flying hooves is enough to drive off most local predators now that mountain lion numbers have been thinned.
The final survival strategy is used by birds and small mammals. The eggs in a grouse nest can number more than a dozen and the same can be said for the numbers of young that doves can produce through multiple nestings over a season. Rarely do they all make it through.
Last fall I got to watch a successful clutch of young Sharptails take their first flight lessons. I’ve watched young otter create mud paths along the river bank and take turns sliding down but I had never before seen young birds do the same.
I was building a road that scaled a ridge line. The slope was purposefully gradual so that I could make the drive even when snow conditions were challenging. But from top to bottom there was a climb of nearly fifty vertical feet. A flock of young grouse discovered that by running up the ascending drive, that they could stop at any point and glide down across the cut alfalfa and come back out on the same gravel path that led to the top.
I took a half hour off from my work just to enjoy the show as they glided down and raced each other back to the top. They were of a size that hid the identity of their hen, but she did a great job.
With recent rains thickening cover, young wildlife stand a greater chance of making it through these difficult early months.