A Deer, a Bullet, and a Lesson on Symmetry

In baby season, there were close to 100 orphaned fawns in the deer yard.  Axis and white-tailed fawns liked to nibble on clothes when they finished sucking from their bottles.
In baby season, there were close to 100 orphaned fawns in the deer yard. Axis and white-tailed fawns liked to nibble on clothes when they finished sucking from their bottles.

At the start of a closing clinic shift, we received a call about an injured deer on the side of the road just a few miles away. Apprentice LeeAnn and I drove to check out the situation. The caller said he was traveling across the country and passed by this deer who was still breathing at the time of the call. When the odometer hit 1.9 miles, LeeAnn and I craned our necks out the window, searching the grass. Spotting the animal, we parked the CRV behind another car. A man stood by the vehicle’s trunk.

“Hello!” I greeted him. He nodded in response. “So, you’re traveling across the country?”

“No.” He looked at me confused. I was confused.

“Did you call us about this deer?”

“No,” he said.

No matter their age, deer are skittish creatures, so tasks like fixing a broken leg need to be done with extreme quiet and caution.
No matter their age, deer are skittish creatures, so tasks like fixing a broken leg need to be done with extreme quiet and caution.

“Okay, well… we’re going to go check on him.” I had no idea who this man was let alone why he was milling about in the area of a profusely bleeding animal.

Approaching the deer, we stopped short. This guy hadn’t been hit by a car. Two lead bullets had sliced through him, a through-and-through in the jugular and another lodged just above the eye. Not seeing any signs of life, we felt his nose. It was still warm, and the flies had not yet accumulated on the wet, crimson blood. We had probably arrived mere minutes after he died.

Texan law allows for public hunting on select private lands to help the state manage the surplus of white-tailed deer. Property owners can apply for a drawing in which the government leases land from individuals for a public hunt. However, the hunting is monitored during a set check-in and check-out time. This deer had been illegally shot.

While LeeAnn and I were processing the situation, a man with a rifle hopped over the fence across the street. Our eyes followed him and the man by the parked car as the two ambled toward us. I gritted my teeth, trying to contain my anger, logically thinking the man with the rifle was the shooter. I had a dictionary of choice words for him but was torn between morality and safety. All for speaking my mind, I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about a bullet in my foot. I don’t like guns and as such had not been around them. This was my first time seeing a rifle up close. But I did know one thing about weaponry; never test the patience of a man with a gun in his hand.

The rifle man squatted down and surveyed the deer.

“Yep, just what I thought. One through-and-through, one lodged.” That much I could have told him. He rested the butt of the rifle on the ground and whipped out a knife. Ohmigod, I thought. He’s going to saw this deer’s head off with a pocketknife. LeeAnn and I exchanged looks of concern.

Rounding up all the fawns in the yard for a head count was never an easy task--especially at night!
Rounding up all the fawns in the yard for a head count was never an easy task–especially at night!

“We’re with Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation,” LeeAnn stated. I wiped my brow, glad she took the reins.

“Ya’ll know Krystal?” he said.

“Yeah, she’s my boss,” I said.

“She’s my daughter.”

Great, I thought. My boss’s father is a hunter, a felon, and about to chop off the head of this deer. And never mind the unnamed mystery man in the background. The parked car man stood behind Rifle Man, silent as a mute.

“Gotta keep these bullets for evidence.”

“What? Evidence? Huh?”

“I heard the shot,” he continued. “You can’t shoot deer out here.” I relaxed slightly, realizing Rifle Man was not the deer shooter, but my relaxation was short-lived. He inserted the blade tip under the skin at the deer’s temple, carved a half circle, then stuck his thumb and two fingers into the bullet hole, extracting the bullet. He inspected it, rolling the silver bell between his fingers.

Ohmigod, that’s a bullet. That’s a bullet. And it’s really bloody. I surprised myself by remaining on both feet.

Orphaned fawns who are also ill first recover in the clinic.  White tail and axis fawns look almost identical, except axis fawns have a stripe of darker fur running along their spine.  Both have prominent white spots.
Orphaned fawns who are also ill first recover in the clinic. White tail and axis fawns look almost identical, except axis fawns have a stripe of darker fur running along their spine. Both have prominent white spots.

I cleared my throat. “So you, uh, you live right there?”

“Yep. Own that there land plus ‘bout twenty acres back.”

“Nice.” I gulped, still recovering from the hard core scenario that had just played out before my eyes.

LeeAnn and I loaded the deadweight deer onto a stretcher and into the back of the CRV, heave-ho-ing as we lifted. I couldn’t wait to share this story with my trailer-mates.

You might question why a Texan would bother calling in about a deer needing rescue when all natives appear to carry guns and hunt deer. I don’t have an answer for that. Maybe you’re asking why in tarnation we would go out to save a deer when some deer species, like the white-tailed, are overpopulated and hunting is allowed anyway. I have asked the same question, and I came to this conclusion. It is my job as an animal rehabber to ensure that no animal suffers. If a deer gets shot in the gut during a hunt, I should hope he doesn’t have to bleed out a slow and painful end. Similarly, if a deer is hit by a car, I feel obligated to step in to prevent a torturous death and to rehabilitate the animal if possible. My role as an animal rehabber is to care for an individual animal. Though I cannot undo the obliteration, destruction and domination by humans over other creatures on our earth, I can try to offset the consequences.

Bottlefeeding fawns became an art form.  When there were not enough bottle holders for the number of fawns, we held bottles between our legs, under our armpits and in both hands to maximize feeding time and efficiency.
Bottlefeeding fawns became an art form. When there were not enough bottle holders for the number of fawns, we held bottles between our legs, under our armpits and in both hands to maximize feeding time and efficiency.

I believe we should live in harmony with the environment. This is not a new age idea, but you can call me a tree hugger if you want. I simply feel interconnected with my surroundings. Never has this belief been stronger than the days since I lived in the Amazon rainforest. Living among the Quechua tribe, I witnessed the beauty and sustainability of a reciprocal relationship between man and earth. It is not only functional, but it is also renewable.

Both the Quechua people and my fellow Americans live in a dually symmetrical and asymmetrical world, but the details are reversed. In the USA, our land is mapped out on a measured, checkered grid of brownstones, blacktop and sidewalk, but these cityscapes and suburbs extinguish the natural terrain. In the Amazon, a walk to the river for water will take a Quechua tribesman around a tree instead of through it, winding an asymmetrical web much like the inconsistent pattern of my travels, yet a path that successfully nurtures and balances nature. The symmetry between man and the land in the jungle is based on the cycle of give and take, not take, take, take.

In Kendalia, Texas, I got a glimpse of my life in the Amazon, living simply and surrounded by nature. Yet, here I was caring for sick, injured and orphaned animals of which more than half were in my hands because of a man-made society encroaching on the natural world. This was my chance to bring the Amazon home, to reverse the curse, if I may; to right some wrongs.

The field of zoology offers many different career options but there is a reason I choose to work in wildlife rehabilitation. It is my sincere hope that I am making a difference.

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