It’s a lovely November morning, and I’m out at first light looking for small invasive brush and trees on an open hillside savanna. I’m using a technique called basal-bark treatment, herbicide applied directly to the bark. It requires no noisy engines, freeing me to soak in all of nature’s tranquility. The sun breaks the crest of the ridge and spills into the valley below painting everything in a warm orange hue. I hear the crow of a ring-necked pheasant below me. Peaceful, I think.
But unbeknown to me, tension is building in the air; high drama is about to unfold!
I catch movement across the valley on the opposite hillside. Antlers! My eyes focus, and I see a buck - a male whitetail deer - moving down the hillside toward the valley below. He’s moving in a stiff-legged, purposeful stomp. I recognize this aggressive behavior and scan ahead of him looking for the target of the buck’s attention. Seeing nothing, I scan back towards the buck, but I’ve lost sight of him, apparently swallowed in the tall prairie grasses.
I hear a pheasant crow and immediately see antlers above the grasses. The buck is moving fast with powerful lunges through the tall grasses. He’s changed course now from when he first entered the valley; I scan ahead of him and see nothing. The buck stops. He’s closer to me now, the sun highlighting the warm rising air of his breath. Minutes pass. The buck waiting for his invisible assailant’s next move.
I see a male pheasant standing on a mowed path/fire break. He stretches his body, standing as tall as possible, and emits a truncated rooster-like crow. The buck explodes to life, crashing through the grasses in the direction of the pheasant. The buck stops on the mowed path near where the pheasant, now disappeared, had previously been. His chest heaving in and out, his stare laser-locked directly ahead of him like a bird dog on a grouse. I follow the direction of his stare and see two deer, a doe and her adult-size fawn, both standing in a mowed opening near a small pond.
The buck is on the move again, walking on the mowed path toward the small opening by the pond. On another mowed path, which ends in the same opening by the pond, is the male pheasant. They’re separated from each other by a wall of tall prairie grasses, but they’re both heading toward the same opening. The two other deer, along with two mallards on the pond, watch the buck and the pheasant close the distance between them.
The suspense is high, the air electrified, as the pheasant and the buck simultaneously enter the opening. The doe and her fawn bolt, the mallards flush, and the two adversaries size each other up. The buck, at 200 pounds, standing 39 inches at the top of the shoulder, and crowned with 8-points of ivory antler. The pheasant, weighing 2.5 pounds, 26 inches long from head to tail, and crowned in red and iridescent green plumage.
The pheasant makes the first move, lets out a loud crow, and turns and runs back in the direction from which he came. The buck, perhaps surprised by the stature of his adversary, is slow out of the gate as he follows in chase. The running speed of the pheasant is amazing, and with the buck in tow, the whole episode reminds me of a scene out of the cartoon “Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner.”
But the pheasant’s lead doesn’t last. The mowed corridor is advantageous to the buck, and he’s quickly closing the gap with the pheasant. Moments before almost certain trampling by the buck, the pheasant utters a boisterous cackle and launches himself into the air with his powerful wings like a turbo-charged rocket. The buck, too, goes airborne in a high-reaching graceful leap leaving the mowed path and landing in the tall grasses. The buck makes several more high-arching leaps in the direction of the pheasant’s flight. The pheasant, still airborne and hundreds of yards away now, locks wings and lands at the far end of the valley. The buck, with the pheasant nowhere in sight, leaves the valley prairie and walks up the far hillside from which he came.
As the buck disappears over the distant ridge, I hear the pheasant’s crow in the valley below.