If junior high dances are anything like they used to be, on the way inside, you walk past noisy boys jostling one another for dominancy. You hear snippets of saucy trash talk, see manly posturing with exaggerated shoulders and aggressive chins, as well as smell a mixture of colognes designed to tantalize the fairer sex awaiting that evening’s Prince Charming. When a particularly desirable young woman arrives, those waiting Romeos amp their preening and posing until they catch her attention.
Once inside the door, one notices young ladies dressed to catch the eye of the toughs shoving one another around outside, listens to decidedly feminine voices discussing outfits, hair, make-up, and the charms of their dream boat, and inhales a second barrage of scents selected to enchant male objects-of- affection.
Once the music begins, dominant lads stride across the room to tag the girl of their dreams for a dance. Every now and then, competition gets in the way, and a stare-down begins first as the two assert their authority. If that doesn’t work, a hefty shoulder shove gets the message across that the lady is taken. Some wannabe sweethearts just don’t get it, and a fight ensues. Whenever I observe these adolescent activities, it reminds me of the annual deer equivalent of this junior high social function.
Not long ago, we spent the evening at Cedar Bluff where we watched the white tail version of this rite of passage. A group of does arranged themselves on a green field below our picnic area and began to nibble daintily. I wondered how long it would take before a buck arrived, and sure enough one followed the females only minutes after they appeared. He was not particularly big, so I expected what came next.
A much larger male strode onto the scene. He didn’t amble; he strutted. He was every bit the cocky adolescent male strutting his stuff to show off for the girls. It was clear he saw the ladies as his and the other buck as an intruder.
Beginning the challenge, the two locked eyes. For several minutes, they stared and feinted forward and back. When that didn’t cause the other to budge, there was some head tossing enhanced with pawing of dust. I guess that’s the deer equivalent of a little sand in the eyes.
For a moment, I thought the little guy was going to give in and leave. The big deer thought so too, but it was a ruse. The challenger was playing with Mr. Macho. After his little deceit, he charged his opponent.
Tensions escalated considerably. You’d have thought the human observers were cheering on a favorite football team with all the jumping up and down and hollering going on. Fans evenly divided their support for the bucks, so emotions heightened on the hilltop as the battle raged.
The warring deer clashed antlers and thunked shoulders, snorting and grunting through the ordeal. Ironically, the fought over four-legged maidens, kept eating. They’d glance up every now and then at a particularly loud assault or at a cheer from the audience, but, in general, they didn’t pay much attention to their Lotharios.
Eventually, the larger creature dispersed his challenger, who wandered into the brush to hide his shame. Several of the hilltop cheering section groaned as their favorite left the battlefield under the flag of defeat. Despite the winner’s exertions, he didn’t seek a prize that evening. He contented himself with joining the gals for dinner.
I was left mulling the similarities between humans and deer and how entertaining it is to watch either species’ courtship rituals.