Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Final Journey

A trail of deer hair leading through the woods (c) John Ashley
A trail of deer hair leading through the woods
So five of us were slogging out of a cedar forest on this wet and windy afternoon, worn down and weary after three hard days of fieldwork in this Glacier Park drainage. That's when we stumbled across a trail of white leading over the reddish-brown forest floor. Deer hair, and quite a bit of it. Individual deer hairs are brown on the outer tips, fading towards grayish-white near the skin.

This trail of fur mapped one deer's final journey through the woods. A good-sized deer either died or was killed, and then its carcass was drug backwards through the forest duff, over fallen logs, through sapling thickets and across ice patches. I suspect that it was drug hind end first, against the grain, based on how much hair was left behind.

Ask any hunter, a dead deer isn't an easy thing to drag around - unless you're a big and strong something-or-other. Our weary group of biologists/naturalists couldn't decide if this was the handiwork of a bear or a cougar, and we were too tired to follow the path of hair to see where it led (as any good naturalist would do). Instead we turned and continued our trek, and one-by-one we each patted the comforting shape on our belts to confirm that our cans of bear spray were handy.