Oh Shenandoah in Spring: How the Fawns Escape the Bears

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“Oh-skan-ohn-doh in Oneida.”

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A doe hiding in the woods along the Story of the Forest Trail by the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

Secret Vistas –
By Glynn Wilson –

BIG MEADOWS, Va. – Finally. It’s 1:47 on a Sunday afternoon. Me and my loyal dog Jefferson are taking a break in the camper van, aided by a little afternoon air conditioning — and an April shower on the mountain in May.

It’s been an interesting week in Shenandoah, the Shenandoah National Park, that is. First we had the “bear-jams” on Sunday, and Boo Boo the bear came back on Monday. He’s still around, circling the campground hunting fawns.

The staff bear guys, a.k.a. wildlife techs, chased him away from the Delaware North employee barracks across the road before lunch, and I got to go along for part of the ride. Got a couple of snaps with the big lens on, but nothing great.

What I really want to talk about in this Sunday head space is an experience that is so Shenandoah you have to experience it to believe. Something I’ve never witnessed up close before. That is the mass birthing of white-tailed deer fawns, and the ensuing bear hunt.

What do I mean by “so Shenandoah?” Well, you have to start with the name. You may recall the American folk song “Oh Shenandoah” and the line about “across the wide Missouri.” It dates back to the early 19th century when brave adventurers seeking a fortune as beaver trappers and traders ventured west. I want to write another song about Shenandoah, to be for this place much like “Danny Boy” is to the Irish. But that will have to wait.

Most of these Canadian and American “voyageurs” in the fur trade were loners who became friendly and intermarried with Native Americans. Lyrics from the early 1800s tell the story of a trader who fell in love with the daughter of the Oneida Iroquois pine tree chief, Oskanondonha (1710–1816), called Shenandoah. His name means “deer antlers.” Read more here.

Well, we didn’t see many antlers in here this week, true, because the bucks are hiding with their new head growth, embarrassed. But pregnant doe are all around the campground, dropping their fawns near people — where they may be safe from bears.

This is not Disneyland, a reality show or a petting zoo. In Shenandoah and the other national parks, you get to see life and death — in a truly wild way. This is real. If experiencing it doesn’t affect you, perhaps you need to have a close look at your flawed soul, like the over drunk redneck-hippie who decided that 2 this morning would be a great time to toss firecrackers into the fire.

I have good friends who are rednecks, good people. Likewise I have good friends who are hippies, also good people. Trouble sometimes seems to follow the rednecks who think they are hippies, walking the Appalachian Trail or not. This one walked away with $250 in fines but no jail trip or even ejection from the park, but I doubt he has a clue how lucky he is today.

But never mind him. He’s gone. Back to the fawns.

Riding down the A-loop one day this week, I got a couple of shots of the face of a fawn sticking out the back of a mother doe. I kid you not. I was hesitant to publish it here, but one of the rangers urged me to for educational purposes. See the photo below.

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A baby fawn being born by a campsite at the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

One morning the fog rolled in thick, like a cloud circling the top of a mountain peak, and the does were moving newborn fawns all over the campground, barely walking on their little legs. You really want to see Bambi up close? Get here the last two weeks of May. There may be one lying in the grass right next to your tent or camper overnight, like the one I caught in the C-loop by the beautiful campsite of Bert and Jane Gildart, the authors and photographers here updating their book on the hiking trails of Shenandoah.

The detailed descriptions and maps of fifty-nine of the best hikes in the park provides readers with much information for planning any type of hiking adventure.

So far on this trip I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail several times around the campground, picking up a cell connection just down the trail from the Big Meadows Amphitheater, and the Story of the Forest Trail, scouting the bear’s path.

This week is going to be full of reporting. I’m going out with the bear crew on Monday, and to Hawksbill for an inside look at the Peregrine Falcon program on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the plan is to take the tour down to President Hoover’s old hangout, Camp Rapidan. Interesting in its own right. But I’m scouting it as a place to take Jefferson swimming.

Meanwhile, it’s about time to hit the showers and enjoy the afternoon, so stay tuned and let us hear from you. There will be more from the mountain soon, when I manage to find the time and motivation to write.

“May your feet never grow too weary of the trail, and remember, keep the camera at the ready.”

More fawns escape the bears than get eaten by them, with a little help from their human friends in the campground all night. Another great reason to get outdoors while you can and do some camping and hiking. You may be the one to protect a fawn from a bear.

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A baby fawn in the grass by a campsite at the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

A newborn fawn hiding in the grass in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

A newborn fawn hiding in the grass in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

One of four fawns following its mother doe into the underbrush in Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

One of four fawns following its mother doe into the underbrush in Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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One of four fawns following its mother doe into the underbrush in Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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Four fawns following their mother doe into the underbrush in Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A doe wearing a radio tracking collar with one of her four fawns in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A doe leading her fawn away in the fog around the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A doe hiding in the woods along the Story of the Forest Trail by the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A doe hiding in the woods along the Story of the Forest Trail by the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A does wandering the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A couple of does feeding on vegetation in Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A doe leading her fawn away from the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A fawn feeding her doe mother’s milk in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A fawn just after feeding her doe mother’s milk in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A d0e leading her fawn into the underbrush to hide in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

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A doe leading her fawn into the underbrush to hide in the Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park: Glynn Wilson

© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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