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Old does know what they are doing

On the opening day of firearms season, I watched an old doe niftily outwit a deer drive and lead her youngsters to safety. I wouldn’t have believed what she did if I hadn’t seen it; I looked at the area later and was impressed both at the area she squeezed through and the stealth at which it was accomplished.

Of course, since it was the first week and bucks only, I had seen more than a dozen does that morning. This group came entered my area at a fast yet quiet trot. They came to a creek, and the big doe out in front stopped and turned broadside, basically forcing the others to hit the brakes.

Once they had all stopped, the big doe squeezed into and through a blown-down tree and stepped lightly into the water. There was very little splashing. The others followed, and all I could here was a slight sloshing. Although they weren’t even knee deep, they didn’t lift their feet out of the water, just did a shallow wading.

On the other side of the creek, one rump after another disappeared into a tall wall of laurel bushes. I didn’t see them head up the hill, so I used binoculars to find them. I finally found an ear; swiveling; they had crawled into a tangle of fallen trees.

They had been way out in front of the drive. Soon I heard whistles and shouts. The group of deer drivers passed about 20 yards from the hidden deer and not one of them bolted.

The big doe had them all under control. In my circle of hunting friends, we call those wise old does the Boss Nannies. Once a doe lives through a few hunting seasons, and successfully raises some fawns, she gets really hard to kill.

So I wondered – how long will a Pennsylvania doe live? I would have guessed about 3 or 4 years but turns out that some may live much longer.

Researchers from Penn State, the US Geological Survey, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry are combining efforts to study the state’s deer and the effect deer have on vegetation. The study is taking place in Rothrock, Bald Eagle and Susquehannock state forests.

The researchers often hear about hunters taking deer they have tagged as part of their research; in 2019 hunters have reported 109 tagged deer (including 62 from the firearms season). One of the reports was of Doe 6174.

Doe 6174 had been captured in Wildlife Management Unit 4B in February 2007. She was an adult when she was captured, which makes her at least 14.5 years old when a hunted finally bagged her.

Nice to know I’m not the only old lady in the woods. In 2014, a tagged doe taken in WMU 2G was 13.5 years old; in 2015, does taken in WMU 2D were 13.5 and 14.5 years old.

According to the hunter who harvested Doe 6174, she was healthy and in good shape. And after 12 years of sporting a collar, her neck was not worse for wear.

What do the researchers say? That it’s nice to hear from old friends, especially during the holiday season. They add that “it’s obvious that deer still hold most of the cards, and they do have the home field advantage.”

An old doe uses her sum total of experience to stay safe, and keep her entourage safe. LISA PRICE/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS