Normally on the last hunt of my deer season, I reflect back on the season and try to analyze how things transpired and wrapped up. The 2017-18 season was a great one. I’ve seen lots of deer and many good bucks; the herd looks healthy and stable, with many button heads and doe fawns surviving their first six months. Also, I took a really great palmated buck with my bow. However, it appears that a chapter in the life of my hunting property has come to an end.
I closely monitor my deer herd with first-hand accounts and strategically placed trail cameras, and I have become quite good at it. I’ve come to learn deer patterns and geography combinations on my property that are most productive for recording movement. Many of the resident bucks even get names, so that I can follow and reference them. Now when it comes to does, you can’t really give them names since they all usually look the same. However, I had one doe in my property that was the exception to that rule.
In August 2009, I captured a picture of a scrawny, young doe that look stressed from the heat of summer. She had an unmistakable tear in her right ear, so I named her “Clip.”
I would say Clip’s story began somewhere around May or June in 2008 when her mother gave birth to her. I presume the birth took place on my hunting property in one of the thicker bedding areas. I’m sure that I had plenty of pictures of her as a fawn with her mother, but at that time, she was unrecognizable. Like all the fawns on my property in Putnam County, I’m sure she clung to her mother as she learned the ways of existence.
Then, between the winter of 2008 and the summer of 2009, Clip likely got involved in the fight for her life. I’ll never know if it was domestic dogs, a bobcat or a coyote, but I can certainly say that she survived. Now permanently marked with her battle scar, a large clip of flesh torn from her right ear, Clip would be forever recognizable.
I am positive this experience helped mold Clip into a fine doe. Year after year, I captured her pictures and watched her from my hunting stands. For the most part, I only shoot mature bucks. My excitement would always drop as soon as I saw that an approaching deer was just a doe. However, I would immediately start looking for that tell-tale missing notch in the right ear to see of it was Clip.
Many days, Clip passed by me close enough that I could see her eyes blink. She always had fawns, usually two, and more often than not, she successfully got them through the first fragile three or four months of their lives. On more than one occasion, which I am embarrassed to admit, Clip caught me in my stand and busted my presence. Always making it known to half of Putnam County that I was in the woods, she would blow extremely loud! Yes, she was a pain in my side on more than one occasion, but she was doing her job, protecting herself and her fawns.
With time, Clip did more than just protect her fawns. At 5 years of age, Clip became the matriarch of my property’s deer herd. Usually leading a procession of eight to 12 other does and button heads, she would enter a food plot or pass by my stands. She was always alert, using her eyes, ears and nose to constantly feed information to her brain.
As the matriarch, she demanded the best feeding spots and her space. Many times, I watched her pummel other does with her hooves and make them back off, clearly making it known that she was the boss, and she would have thing her way.
When Clip turned 7 years old, I figured her time was getting short. Even though she still appeared in good health and was holding her lead position in the herd, I knew wild deer don’t usually make it much past 9 years of age. Between teeth wear, weakened bodies and predators, it should gets increasingly harder for a deer to survive when they get much older.
When I got my first 2017 springtime pictures of Clip, it was obvious the winter had been hard on her. I know it sounds crazy, but she just looked tired. It was at that moment that I decided the 2017-18 season was when I would take Clip. I couldn’t bear to see the head of my herd, that had so successfully produced and protected so many of the deer on my property, get torn down by predators.
In July 2017, Clip had twins again. However, things were definitely different. She no longer led her herd. She was there, but she was no longer her feisty self. You could tell that she was just kind of along for the ride and was submissive to some of the other does. I decided that I would take her in December after she had time to educate her fawns.
But as fate would have it, Oct. 19 at 9:09 p.m., my cameras would capture my last picture of Clip. Looking worn down and tired, she passed by at one of her regular crossings next to one of my stands.
With each week that went by without a picture of her, it became more and more evident that I had waited too late to spare her.
As I sat for my last hunt of the season, I scanned through more than 20 deer looking for Clip. She never showed. It was kind of somber thinking that I would not get to follow her any longer. I’d no longer get to count her fawns and track their survival. I’d never get to see her enter her favorite field in the lead, head held high, ears forward and nose up.
Yes, I decided that her chapter had closed.
I was sitting there that last evening, disappointed in myself that I had waited too late. I was let down that I would no longer get to follow Clip. However, as I sat there, I realized that many of those 20-plus deer in front of me were her offspring. They had been raised and educated by the best. So with that in mind, Clip would not eventually fall away from my memory. Instead, I would be able to remember her with the herd she had raised and left behind.
Clip’s story began in the summer of 2008 and ended in the fall of 2017. She was just an old doe to many people, but she will always be a welcomed familiar face and the backbone of my deer herd to me.