It’s common knowledge that deer live in herds, as their traveling in numbers protects against predators when out in the open, but if this is indeed the case, why is it so common for us to catch a glimpse of them on their own in the wild?
It makes sense that they would break formation every now and again, but as elusive as they are (even as a large herd), you’d expect a lone deer sighting to be extremely rare, yet this isn’t so.
Even Bambi had Thumper and Flower — Granted, a strange entourage, but company nonetheless.
Yet it seems that outside of the movies, deer often have no such luck, and I’m going to explain why!
A Mother Protecting Her Fawns
Between May and June, a doe will birth her fawn conceived between September and November of the previous year, and once they’re no longer in immediate need, it’s not uncommon for the mother to stay well away from her young throughout both the day and the night.
In doing so, she ensures that predators will not be led back to the fawns’ bed.
Of course, her fawns still need her, as their mother’s milk is their only form of sustenance for several months, so the doe makes her way back to her children in the crepuscular hours between day and night when predators are most likely settling for a period of rest.
She feeds her fawns, and shortly thereafter, heads back out into the wilderness while her young rest in their covered bed, safe and sound.
So, if you see a lonely doe in the wild around May or June, she’s most likely excused herself from her herd and her fawns in order to protect them as best she can.
Once her young are weaned and grown, she and her female progeny will rejoin her original herd. However, things are a little different for her male progeny.
Related: When Do Fawns Lose Their White Spots?
A Young Buck Searching For A Herd
Deer travel almost exclusively in gendered herds, by which I mean a single herd will comprise either all females or all males.
There are some exceptions around rutting season when there obviously must be some intermingling, but for the most part, it’s like a kid’s school disco… girls over on one side, boys over on the other side.
This poses something of a quandary to a young buck, as now that he is grown, he cannot join his mother’s original herd with his sisters, for he is a male deer.
Sadly, the laws of his species don’t stop him from trying to follow his family, leading to a heartbreaking scene in which the mother must use force to detach her son or sons from the herd.
The forsaken children typically continue to follow the herd from a distance for a while until coming to terms with their fate.
Bucks must strike out on their own until they can find and slip into the ranks of a male herd.
Finding their new place in the world can take time, so there’s a good chance that the lone deer you saw on your nature excursion was on the hunt for a new gang!
A Mother With Her Fawns
If you saw a lone adult deer with her young, you perhaps witnessed the doe attempting to find a new resting place for her children.
She might do this if she picked up the scent of a predator near their old spot, if noise pollution scared them away, or if resources were growing scarce.
As deer diverge from their herd to raise their young, the doe would be the only adult deer in view.
One of the primary reasons for deer to form a herd is so that they can look out for one another, and sometimes, this involves strategy.
An individual might break off from the herd in order to scout for predators or food.
The herd typically won’t be too far afield, but if the group lie in cover, to the observer, it may appear as if the sighted deer is the only member of their species for miles around.
Bucks travel in herds for the majority of their lives, but each year when rutting season comes along, usually between September and November (sometimes December), the herd disbands as each member begins his hunt for a doe to mate with.
An injured deer cannot keep up with the herd, and thus, will often be left behind.
Aware of their vulnerability, they will seek refuge in densely covered areas, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see them out in the open, but this is another reason why deer end up alone.
They will likely rest during the day, attempt to forage at twilight, then hide during the night, but eventually, the deer will be caught by a predator or die from injury-derived complications.
If you see a fawn out in the open on its own, the heartbreaking truth is likely that their mother has been killed, either hunted by humans or natural predators, and her young have been left to fend for themselves.
Thankfully, there are services that take in injured or orphaned fawns and try to rehabilitate them or look after them until they can sufficiently fend for themselves.
Research has shown that larger bucks tend to value their space more than others, perhaps due to feeling and indeed being stronger and less vulnerable to predators.
If you see a huge buck traveling alone, chances are he just enjoys his own company from time to time, but will likely return to the herd before long.
While deer are very social creatures who primarily travel in herds, bucks, does, and fawns must endure periods of solitude in order to protect one another, procreate, find food, and sometimes, die.
As such, it’s not uncommon to catch these majestic creatures in the middle of one of the many solo missions they’ll embark on throughout their life.