It’s not overstating the case to say I was both shocked and amazed when I looked at these photos on my screen. What I saw was so very unexpected!
Deer have absolutely no choice but to jump fences and more often than not they’re successful. But the danger is that they often get hung up on them and meet an agonizing death. Such a fate awaits thousands of them every year on all types of fences but barbed wire is particularly dangerous to them.
I won’t present it here but if you want evidence of that fact do a Google Image Search using “deer caught on fence” as your search terms. But if you go there prepare yourself for a grisly ride.
Yesterday I photographed this Mule Deer (below) as it jumped a fence in Box Elder County and I was amazed by what I saw when I reviewed those photos on my screen when I arrived home. Despite the fact that they’re of fairly poor quality (some are soft and I was too close to the deer to photograph the behavior well) I believe they’re plenty good enough to document the unexpected behavior I witnessed.
All five images are presented in the order they were taken and there are no skips.
In this first shot most of the deer’s body has cleared the top strand of barbed wire but given its forward momentum it appears that the hind legs/feet may not clear it. If that were to happen the legs would likely slide down on the wire and catch the strand of wire below which would wrap those legs between the two wires and doom the deer.
That’s exactly what happens all too often in these situations.
So the deer used a creative method to get those hind legs over the wire. In midair it stepped on the second wire…
and used it as a “springboard” to…
clear the top wire (notice the “twang” of the second wire as it rebounds upward despite how tightly it was stretched on the fence).
I include this last image to show how far the deer had to drop before its front feet reached the ground. And keep in mind the speed of the jump – this sequence of 5 images took exactly 1/2 second to photograph.
Ungulates, including deer, are incredibly cognizant of exactly where their feet are (and where those feet are going next) even when running over broken ground at top speed so I believe the deer stepped on the wire deliberately – it was no fortunate accident. But if that very small hoof had missed its mark by even a half-inch or so the deer would likely have become just another sad statistic on the wire.
I’ve photographed deer and elk jumping barbed wire fences quite a few times and I’ve never seen anything like this. It makes me wonder if this is a jumping technique learned and used by only one or a few individuals or if all of them have it in their repertoire to use when needed.
I can’t help but marvel at the athletic prowess I witnessed but I shudder to think of what could have happened. I’m so very glad I didn’t have to use the wire cutters I always keep in my pickup now (since my two experiences with cutting owls out of barbed wire fences) to cut the wire and free the deer.
That would have been unpleasant for both of us…