Scruffy Whitetails (Who's Scruffy Looking?)

Joshua VanBrakle Monday, 07 May 2018

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I’m no professional photographer, but I do love taking wildlife pictures. I’m always looking for that interesting shot to add to my collection or feature here on MyWoodlot.

For as much time as I spend in the woods though, something that frustrated me for a long time was that I had no decent pictures of deer. Deer are beautiful animals, even if they can cause trouble for forest regrowth. It bothered me that I had only grainy, blurry shots of them from far away.

That’s why I was so excited when one day last May, I stumbled upon two deer in the woods behind the office here. It was one of those rare moments where I spotted them before they spotted me. I didn’t want to spook them, so I took my time getting my camera and telephoto lens out.

But even as I took those first couple pictures through the trees, my excitement turned to concern. Something was wrong with these deer. They didn’t look right. Their fur was the wrong color. I edged a little closer and shifted to my left for clearer view.

That movement was enough. They spotted me. They stared at me, ears up, alert.

I froze. I feared they would bolt before I figured out what was going on.

A minute passed. The deer kept watching me. No one moved. I don’t think I breathed during that minute.

At last the deer calmed down. They kept watching me, but they relaxed. I guess they decided I wasn’t a threat.

My pulse still racing at my near disaster, I took a closer look at the deer. Finally I saw it. Their fur was all rough and uneven.

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I took a bunch of pictures, hopeful a few would turn out so I could examine them in more detail later.

Eventually the deer had enough of me. They walked away into the forest.

Back inside, I had a lot of pictures of blurry deer. The low branches and trees between me and the deer played havoc with my camera’s autofocus. Fortunately, I had two clear pictures with the deer in focus. Those photos finally revealed what was going on.

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The deer were shedding their winter coats. This was May, after all. In the fall, deer grow a thick coat of hollow hairs. Those hairs trap air inside them, which helps insulate the deer from the cold. But in spring, that coat becomes too hot. The thick fur comes off and gets replaced by a short, reddish coat that protects the deer’s skin from the sun. The winter fur comes off unevenly and itches, resulting in that unkempt appearance.

If you see some scruffy-looking deer this time of year, don’t worry. They aren’t infested with some hideous disease. They’re just swapping out their wardrobes.

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