Cochise County: Mule Deer Buck, Odocoileus hemionus, Retains Antlers in April

Last year’s antler’s retained in this year’s April? I was surprised, but the mule deer buck, Odocoileus hemionus, photographed near Palominas Road in southern Cochise County, Arizona, was definitely sporting a full and well seasoned rack. I had to check the date: April 12, 2016.

Perhaps it happens all the time down here. What do I know? Where I grew up in western Montana, the usual antler drop for both deer and elk occurred in or around February of each year. Winters are certainly much milder here. Could it be possible that this fellow had simply been able to keep his testosterone levels elevated throughout the entire winter and into balmy spring weather?

Got me. You be the judge. Or at least feel free to comment.

The antlered phenomenon wasn’t traveling alone; he had a doe with him and a yearling following the pair. It was the youngster who first got my attention, primarily because she was still in the roadway when I came along. Slowing the GMC pickup truck wasn’t enough; I had to come to a full stop to let her finally quit dithering and ease on over to the barbed wire fence. When she did finally work up the nerve to jump, she cleared the top wire as easy as pie, but the strands definitely worried her–and with good reason.

Getting the photos on this page was also an iffy proposition. There was a dump truck approaching from the rear and a car heading down Palominas from the other direction, which meant I’d be asking for irritated drivers if I waited too long before pulling out. Additionally, there was not enough time to switch from sunglasses to reading glasses, so the LCD display on the camera was a matter of blurry guesswork. I had to try, though. We’ve lived in this area for seven years now, and I’ve only managed one set of deer photos that were worth publishing. In the end, although the yearling did not get recorded and the doe is only dimly visible, the pictures of the buck with the rack came out just fine. I was even able to head on down the road the moment the little one cleared the fence, holding up neither of the other drivers.

Mule deer buck near Palominas Road in southern Cochise, County, Arizona.  Photo taken on April 12, 2016.

Mule deer buck near Palominas Road in southern Cochise, County, Arizona. Photo taken on April 12, 2016.

Only the doe's head is visible as she stays close by the much larger buck.

Only the doe’s head is visible as she stays close by the much larger buck.

Moving on.  Despite my truck being stopped a mere dozen yards away, these two held position until the yearling cleared the fence to join them.

Moving on. Despite my truck being stopped a mere dozen yards away, these two held position until the yearling cleared the fence to join them.

There’s a reason I carry the Canon PowerShot on my belt during the day: It’s impossible to tell in advance when a wildlife photo opportunity will present itself. This time, I certainly hadn’t been thinking about photogenic critters. Our friend Becky had called to ask if I could stop by; her van needed a jump start. I’d set the cell phone back on the little table, climbed out of the bathtub full of toasty warm water in which I’d intended to soak for an hour, put on my clothes, told Pam where I was going, and headed out. Nothing about that struck me as ideal timing–except for the fact that I was wide awake, which is not always the case before noon–but if I’d reached that stretch of road a minute sooner or a minute later, the photos would never have been taken. There is no such thing as an accident.

Until April 12, I’d have sworn there was no such thing as a mule deer buck sporting a full rack of last year’s antlers, either.