Beware of Bambi

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

Lions and tigers and deer, oh my!

Danger lurks in our forests and other wild places. Grizzly bears and alligators and mountain lions have been mauling humans for ages, and fear of their claws and jaws bites deep into our consciousness. Somewhere inside, we all remember cave bears.

But while most of us retain a healthy respect for wolves and cougar, the urbanization of humankind has diminished our awareness of vicious raccoons, angry squirrels and the mostly deadly critter of them all -- deer.

Trophy Buck Deer With Big Rack More people perish in the U.S. from close encounters with deer each year than with bears and sharks and snakes combined (bees are the next most deadly creature). Many of these deaths are the result of collisions on roadways, but deer are also killing people with their hooves and antlers.

Recently, a woman at Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon was attacked by a deer just outside her home while taking her toy poodle outside for a walk. A doe blind-sided the woman, knocking her off her feet and then repeatedly struck her with its hooves.

"It just kept coming back," the woman told a reporter. "I thought I was going to die. It could have killed me. It was bizarre."

The woman was fortunate, and the experience was not unique. In the book "Whitetails" by Erwin A. Bauer, the author details an increasing trend of deer attacks on humans:

"A Colorado boy was killed by a deer he tried to free from entanglement in a fence. In Pennsylvania, a rutting buck attacked and gravely injured Bruce Gibbons and his thirteen-year-old son. A few days later in Alabama a farmer was found dead from multiple antler punctures. A Wisconsin archer was nearly killed by a wounded deer he was trailing. For no apparent reason, a buck attacked a sixty-nine-year-old lady who had paused at a rest stop near Lampasas, Texas."

The most dangerous deer, according to biologists, are bucks which have become used to people and are no longer afraid of them.

Population growth, both in deer and humans, has a lot to do with a number of these attacks, but they are not a new development. Roger Caras, in his 1964 book "Dangerous to Man," reports that the excessively shy deer can also be formidable and attacks on people are not uncommon.

"One evening in 1961, a housemaid left her place of employment in Westchester County, just north of New York City, and was waiting for a bus on a dark street corner. A white-tailed buck charged out of some bushes and pinned the hysterical woman to a tree. Only the timely arrival of the bus kept the woman from being killed."

As early as 1904, Ernest Thompson Seton wrote in Scribner's Magazine that "bucks not only fight among themselves, but occasionally attack man; and more than one unfortunate person has been gored to death by them."

So, when you're out of doors, it's a usually a good idea to keep an eye out for bears and rattlesnakes, but always beware of Bambi.

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