Gary Mulnix

© Copyright 2023 by Gary Mulnix

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

We were having an easy winter but everything changed February first. Temperatures dropped and it started snowing, every day. We didn’t see the sun for three weeks. The deer herd that lived in my back yard had a tough time finding enough to eat. They trimmed up my arborvitaes as high as they could reach and gobbled every ivy leaf that wasn’t covered with snow. They even ate my rose bush, thorns and all.

There were five deer in the herd: three does and two yearlings. I suspect the yearlings were cousins, but I’ll never know for sure. The three does and one of the yearlings kept their distance during daylight hours and generally stayed toward the back of my yard. One of the yearlings wasn’t so skittish. It would come right up near the patio and side-suck the sunflower seeds out of one of my bird feeders. It was comical to watch. He would push at the feeder with the side of his head and lick the seeds out with his tongue. Then he would gnash them with his back teeth. The gnashing was loud! I could hear it from my kitchen window. He didn’t run off when he spotted me watching, he just kept on eating. I could see the two small protrusions on his forehead where antlers would one day sprout so I named him Bucky.

On exactly March first the weather changed. It warmed up, the sun came out and the snow began to melt. My little herd was happy! I saw them almost daily at the back of the yard eating the first shoots of new grass. They seemed so much less stressed. The does looked calm and relaxed as they moved slowly around the yard searching out the new growth, but the yearlings! The two of them were jumping and frolicking through the yard like they were the happiest deer in the world. They got up on their rear legs and leapt in the air as high as they could. They were having fun.

Three weeks later the herd was gone and my yard seemed very quiet without them. Then one day I saw Bucky. He was all alone and looked so lost and lonely. The does had gone off with the other yearling and left him. He wandered around the yard and the small woods near my house. He seemed to have no direction and no energy. I felt bad for him.

Ss the sun was rising one Saturday morning in April , the road in front of my house sparkled. I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t cold enough to frost but the whole road was sparkling! I walked out to the road and found it was covered with glass. Broken glass was everywhere. I called police dispatch to report it and the person I talked to told me a car had hit a deer in front of my house the day before. “Bucky!” moaned in my head.

Monday afternoon I was relieved to see Bucky lying in his favorite spot in the backyard. He was just under the outer branches of an old blue spruce. I had noticed the flattened area of grass before and wondered if that was where he spent his leisure time. Bucky looked content and relaxed. He laid there for a few hours and at one point even took a nap with his head tucked in under one of his hind legs.

It wasn’t until he got up that I saw it was Bucky who had been hit in the road. He was walking on three legs and holding his left hind leg up off the ground. I couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, but I knew a deer with an injured leg is in trouble. I couldn’t figure out what to do.

I searched my phone for wild life rescues but none were close. The animal shelter didn’t answer as it was after hours and neither did animal control. My text to the nearest rescue went unanswered so I called police dispatch (again). When I explained the situation the dispatcher told me the most humane thing to do was to “put the deer down”. He offered to send an officer and I reluctantly agreed. I put down the phone and cried a little. Bucky was my friend.

The young police officer could not have been more kind or compassionate. He listened to my story patiently and really seemed to understand. I told him Bucky and his extended family had been living here for most of the winter, how Bucky was left on his own, and how lonely he had been. I told the officer I thought of Bucky as my back yard pet deer. The officer, like the dispatcher, explained that the best thing to do was to “put him down”, so we walked to the back yard. Bucky was at the far edge grazing but when he heard the officer’s voice he looked up and ran off. I was relieved! If he could move that fast, maybe he would be okay.
I didn’t see Bucky for a few days but the next time I saw him, it was not good. I was at my computer next to a window that looks out over the back yard. He was just a couple of feet from the patio when I first noticed him. A bone was sticking out of his rear left leg and it was sticking out a lot. Bucky made his way to a bed of violets up next to the house and lied down. He never got up.

It was obvious he was dying. I left him alone but kept a vigil from the window. He was lying on his side and I could see his chest rise and fall with each breath. I cranked open the window as quietly as I could so I wouldn’t disturb or scare him. Each time I looked out he would look up at me. The last time I looked that evening he was breathing slowly and quietly. I was sure the end would come soon. I was surprised to see he was still alive the next morning.

I went out to him. He wasn’t scared of me. He didn’t move a muscle. He just tilted his head back and looked at me with his big dark eyes. I told him, “You’re not alone, Bucky. You can go now. You’re going to be okay.” I sat on the patio near him and he kept looking at me. After a long time he closed his eyes. There was a spasm. Then another. Then a long slow exhale and he was still. Bucky was gone.
That afternoon I was at the computer again and a movement outside the window caught my eye. A wild turkey was running toward the house as fast as it could run. It startled me and I startled it. The turkey did an about face and ran back to the woods. Soon after, the woodchuck that lives under my shed began working its way around the yard topping off the dandelions. I thought, “Great, I won’t have to mow!” One of my bunnies hopped into the yard and the wrens were busy feeding their new hatchlings. There is a lot of activity in my backyard, but I miss my yearling friend.

Bucky is a story about my interaction with a deer that lived in my back yard two years ago. It may read as if it is embellished, but I assure you every word is true. I had just begun writing short stories based on my life experiences when the events in the story took place and at one point I felt like I was living in a short story. I had written other things in my life, for example, art history papers and letters to the editor, but writing short stories is a new venture. 

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