February Rut?

Lying doggo, exhausted by the chase, poor boy.
Lying doggo, exhausted by the chase, poor boy.

By sheer chance, I happened to stumble across an extraordinary drama while heading up the hill on Friday. Movement caught my eye through the trees as I drove up the road, and I pulled over onto the verge to watch a group of roe deer running wildly across an open field. Wondering what had disturbed them, I scanned the binoculars up and down for a few seconds before realising that they were chasing themselves. A buck (incidentally the same fellow pictured at the bottom of In Velvet (part 2)) was chasing a doe and her single doe follower up and down the field.

Every time the doe stopped, he would press his nose into her rear as if he was expecting her to be in season, and she stood to his attention with an uncomfortable resignation. Then she would spring away and the buck would launch after her again. The doe follower seemed to be adding nothing more to the situation than an element of confusion, and if anything it seemed to be aggravating the stand-off by. It sometimes seemed as if the adult doe was just as irritated by the youngster as she was by the buck, and there was some barging and frustrated head-tossing.

Increasingly, the buck would lie down when the doe came to a stop, and even as I watched over the course of an hour, he became heavy-footed and clumsy in his exhaustion. Latterly he would even lie with his neck stretched out on the ground like a collie dog (as in the picture, above), totally flummoxed and dumb with fatigue. But when the doe ran on, he felt honour-bound to follow her, showing less interest in her rear end as the afternoon went on and falling like he had been shot every time she stopped.

Having enjoyed exclusive use of this fifteen acre field since November, the deer are now being forced to share it with the first lambs. They haven’t taken kindly to this intrusion, and despite running all over the rest of the field, they avoided the shelter of the ash trees where the sheep were lying as if it were contaminated, unholy ground. This is no surprise, but it was interesting to see that even in the throes of their dispute, all three deer were united in their hatred of sheep.

Now this situation poses a bit of a mystery. In effect, what I was seeing was very similar to the rutting behaviour I’ve come across before, but I could think of no real reason as to why a doe would be coming in season in February unless perhaps she wasn’t covered in the summer and her cycle has kicked in out of season to compensate. Despite having watched her for some time, I saw no glaringly obvious evidence to suggest that she wasn’t pregnant. Skimming through all my books on deer, I found some mention of a “false rut” sometimes seen in October and November, but there was no reference to anything like the pursuit of does by a buck at this time of year.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely knowledgeable readership on this blog and would be grateful for any theories or suggestions regarding these bizarre events –  any explanations keenly received –

Round and round, then back round again.
Round and round, then back round again.

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