Petunia hunter: Stemming the deer invasion

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer July 05, 2013 11:08 am
am not a hunter. Not yet, anyway. In Northeast Oregon, that is like admitting you don’t eat red meat, own a pickup truck or a border collie and prefer opera music.

Wednesday morning, however, enjoying the first cool breezes in a week, I noticed something strange. The petunias blooming profusely on my deck had been reduced to a forest of stubs.

The deer were back. They had to want the petunias, bad. To reach them, the deer had to walk over a bed of rocks, and then stand on the hard, uneven surface to meticulously nip off each colorful blossom.

It’s not that I am unarmed. I do have a Red Ryder BB gun for self-defense and target practice.

It’s not that I don’t eat meat. I love a good venison steak as much as the next guy. In retirement, I may want to take up hunting, and I know where to find a lot of deer with guilty expressions.

For now, though, I use my double-wide mobile home, which I affectionately call the mountain cabin, as a photo blind.

On the first day of summer — no, not June 21, as it reads on the calendar, but June 27, when the rain stopped and the sun began flexing its substantial muscles — I decided to set up my air-conditioning system.

It’s not fancy. You just open all the windows at night and close them and the blinds during the day.

You also grab a fan. I went from the living room to the dining room to grab a chair on which to set the fan, and that’s when I saw the spotted fawn tottering in the side yard.

I ran to get my camera off the kitchen counter and returned to the window. I set up the perfect shot and quickly pressed the shutter. 

“Card full,” the screen read.

“Oh, drats,” I said, or words to that effect.

This never happens to me, at least not before now. I generally take pictures selectively and fill up a card about as often as Catholics change Popes.

I quickly hot-footed it back to the camera bag and changed to a new card, then raced back to the window. I took the first picture quickly, to make sure I got at least one shot, knowing wildlife, unlike a congressman on Sunday morning TV, won’t hold a pose forever.

Once I had captured the scene for posterity, I slowed down and tried to get the picture I really wanted — that moment of magic.

Then, watching the scene unfold through the preview screen, I saw magic happen. A doe, the mother, appeared and began to nuzzle the fawn — giving her a bath? Kicking the tires and enjoying the new-deer smell?

The magic didn’t last long. Soon the deer family decided to look for greener pastures. Maybe the neighbor’s roses looked more promising.

The doe led her fawn across the east yard, the fawn boinging as if on a pogo stick, and then they were out of sight.

It wasn’t the first time the mountain cabin has made a terrific photo blind. Once I captured the picture of a buck with a halo of vegetation on his remaining antler, which he was trying to knock off during the shed.

Another time I captured a family of raccoons emerging from the irrigation ditch tube, my backyard water feature, to enjoy a Bing cherry feast.

Still another time I captured a buck in velvet, backlit by the setting sun, and then later going nose to nose with one of the raccoons, ready to wrestle for a cherry.

I’ve bagged a lot of animals in my day, but with the photo blind it’s all catch-and-release. I won’t rule out hunting, someday. Get hungry enough, or mad enough, and hunting may seem like a good option.

For now, I’ll let the camera do the hunting.