Robertson: Turkey-deer interactions

This big doe is looking intently at the sound of my friend calling a turkey. Can she tell if it is a hunter or a real hen? What would she do if she knew it was a hunter and a gobbler was going to the call? Would she run, investigate or try to interfere with the hunt? Just how much do turkeys and deer watch out for each other? Great questions the author examines in the following article.

The human mind is a curious thing. Capable of astonishing accomplishments, it is also sometimes stubbornly inflexible. Many times, once a belief is firmly in place, opinions will never change.

Dogs and cats have been known to save their masters from fires and other life threatening situations. People believe this is possible because, I believe, they’ve witnessed dogs and cats have personalities and thought processes. This degree of intelligence varies animal to animal as do their personalities. Yet, surprisingly, many hunters I’ve spoken too immediately reject the concept animals such as deer and turkeys are capable of some pretty amazing acts of intelligence and even cooperation between themselves.

Certain big bucks become extremely secretive. No one ever sees them, only their shed antlers witness their existence. They have patterned the humans around them, avoid every trail camera, travel only at night and never take chances. This takes thought and planning.

It’s no surprise experienced hunters agree bigger bucks are usually extremely intelligent. But can deer further their senses and intellect to assist other animals in escaping danger? Conversely, can turkeys use their 6 power eyesight to aid other creatures in turn? Specifically, do deer and turkeys occasionally combine their senses and assist one another in avoiding danger?

Dad and I witnessed many interactions between deer and turkeys over years of hunting. We felt that without question turkeys and deer mingled together for mutual protection when hunting pressure was high.

Turkeys have exceptionally sharp eyesight capable of picking up danger deer were unable to see. Since turkeys have absolutely no curiosity they immediately began moving away from even the slightest motion they find suspicious. The deer, trusting the turkey’s instincts and eyesight, would follow.

Likewise, a deer’s nose is their most trusted sense. When the lead doe smelled danger coming and went on alert the turkeys perked up and stared upwind with her. If the deer moved, the turkeys followed. If the deer stood and waited for the scented, but still invisible danger to appear, the alerted turkeys would see it first and move away. The deer would follow. Each species trusted the other’s best sense for mutual safety.

Single, yearling deer often mix in with a flock of turkeys for the same reason. The more eyes and ears around the safer you are and the deer’s single, but sensitive, nose upped the safety factor for all concerned. But, can this respect for each other’s superior senses extend further than this mutual cooperation I’ve witnessed so many times? Though rare, I believe it can and the following events add evidence to this belief.

This morning I heard a gobbler across the valley and set off down the hill, crossed the stream and climbed the steep hillside. Close to the top I saw a doe and a yearling who began to run, then stopped when I called and the gobbler answered. I paid her no attention, knowing she’d quickly turn and vanish. Events would prove me wrong.

Nearing the ridgetop, a large patch of two-foot high blueberry bushes grew, hiding my approach at first. Nearing their edge however, they in turn shielded the open ground beyond them. It would be impossible to see the gobbler until he was within 20 or 30 yards.

I leaned against a stump and called. The Tom hammered right back at me and soon he was so close I could hear him drumming and dragging his wing tips through the leaves. Any second he’d appear and be mine. My heart was pounding, my body quivering and the safety off. Then a twig cracked behind me.

Risking movement I slowly turned my head and 15 yards away stood the doe and fawn staring at me. Then the doe began to snort loudly and stomp the ground. What? She’d seen me clearly coming up the hill, but instead of running she’d followed me and now was making a terrible racket.

Watching for the gobbler, but keeping my hand low I shooed her away. She refused to leave and continued snorting and stomping. The next time the turkey gobbled he was 200 yards away. The doe turned and waved her big white tail before proudly trotting off. I believe she purposely spooked my gobbler.

This spring at the writer’s conference, a fellow author related to me a similar experience. He set up across a small field from a gobbling Tom. After some talk back and forth the gobbler moved parallel to him, entered the field and began strutting directly toward our hunter. Things were looking good.

Suddenly, three deer came out of the woods and at around 80 yards placed themselves directly in front of the gobbler and refused to let him move forward. They lowered their heads and pushed him, used their legs to block him and stood in line so that they wouldn’t let him slip by their blockade. After 15 minutes the turkey gave up and walked off. The deer watched until he entered the woods and trotted off themselves.

When I suggested the deer had done this purposely and with intent, saving the gobbler, my writer friend refused to even give such a thought any consideration. In fact, he thought I was a bit silly to even suggest such a thing.

Why did they do it then, I asked?

“I have no idea,” he stated, with a puzzled expression.

To me the answer is obvious. What do you believe?

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