Runlikely: Charged by a Deer

Miles: 16
Elevation gain: 4,131 feet
Effort: Moderate (I tried to keep it easy but what is easy about 4,000 feet of elevation gain?)
Time: 6:50 (average pace: 25:27/mile)
Emergency poops: 1 but not quite an emergency

I woke up this morning to a dream I was starting a backpacking trip and was trying to stuff a bunch of things into my pack last-minute, which wouldn’t fit, so I was stuffing them to a garbage bag strapped to my backpack before realizing I didn’t actually need a double sleeping bag in addition to the sleeping bag that was already in my backpack. And I could probably leave behind the takeout container full of Chinese sautéed pork, too.

I don’t know what the metaphor there is other than perhaps I was feeling out of my depth about this mileage. Still, I got on the road at a reasonable hour, grabbed a bagel and latte to try to repeat the no-gut-problems success of the last run, and headed to the Highpoint Trailhead for a day spent running around Tiger Mountain State Forest. At the trailhead , the coffee meant a trip to the porta-potty that I hoped would tide me over for the whole run.

I started the run on the very flat Tradition Lake trail to warm up and then headed up the Tiger Mountain Trail. Honestly not a ton to say about it: green, mossy, pretty typical PNW. Climbs to nowhere in particular. There was a very cool, long bridge over a creek that was so covered in greenery that I couldn’t see it but could hear it.

My nipples start hurting for reasons I don’t understand (is it because it’s cold? are my water bottles cold and making my nipples colder? are they chafing?) but rather than try to understand the exact mechanism, I pulled Aquaphor out of my pack and slathered them and called it good.

Very quickly I realize, uh, wow, this is a lot of elevation gain I’m racking up here. According to my watch I’d climbed ~2,000 feet in the first 5 miles (and the first mile was flat.) As mentioned, the ups and downs are… pretty pointless. I couldn’t see through the trees or anything, so as I get to mile 4.5 I text Mark to let him know my plans have changed. I’m not going to do an out and back on the Tiger Mountain Trail—the idea of turning around at mile 8 just to tackle these ups and downs again sounds not very fun. Instead, I’m going to make a loop out of the multiple trails that go around the park.

The first adventure was to tack on a summit of Tiger Mountain 2, which essentially consisted of a big radio tower. There was an itty bitty view through the trees.

A hiker had told me it was only 20 minutes further to Tiger 1, so I figured: OK, there next. This meant running down a steep dirt road, and then huffing and puffing up a steep dirt road.

Just as I was laughing about how ridiculously steep the road got (which I did not capture well in photos but I would have been nervous to drive a car up it), I turned to my right and, WHAM!, Mount Rainier was out in all its glory.

That was a great mood booster, since I didn’t know if views were going to happen on this run. I got a cheesy photo of me and the mountain and then kept going. There’s a fun Hiker Hut at the top made out of metal with benches inside. I can’t say I’d be eager to stay there but maybe if I was caught in a storm.

So far, despite the elevation gain being more than I expected, I’m feeling good. It’s great temperature for running, the weather is nice, I just got to view Mount Rainier, and the rest of the trail won’t be a repeat of things I’ve already seen. Delightful! I head down Poo Top Trail—it’s narrow and rooty along a tree-covered ridgeline and relatively steep, so I’m not moving super fast, but I’m having a good time. I descend about 500 feet and am a stone’s throw from a road crossing when the title of this blog post becomes relevant: I come across a doe and her fawn.

I don’t often see big wildlife on trail. I’ve never seen a bear in the wild. I’ve never seen a mountain lion. Despite hiking in Arizona regularly and 700 miles in the California desert on the PCT, I’ve only ever come across three rattlesnakes. I consider this lucky because I have no interest in screwing with wildlife, especially when I’m on my own.

I have, however, come across deer on hikes before. It usually goes something like this:

*sees deer* “Oh!”

*deer jumps away immediately to safe distance*

So color me confused when this mama dear and her fawn do not head for the hills (or the downhill, in this case) when they see me. I backed up and tried to give them space, but they kind of just kept lingering in the same spot. At one point, the doe went into the brush just off to the side, and the baby tried to follow but quickly jumped back on trail. (That baby almost looked too tiny to deal with the underbrush, but I am not a deer scientist, so what do I know.) We are at an impasse. I don’t want to hike 500 feet back uphill in the wrong direction (I don’t want to do it so much that if the thought even crossed my mind, my brain immediately dismissed it as a plausible course of action. Hike uphill to avoid a male deer? A moose? A bear? Sure. But not a doe.)

“Go on!” I keep telling the deer. But she’s not moving, and I’m sure as hell not going to walk up to 120+ pound wild animal with its baby.

So, I decide, I will be the one to trudge down the mountainside into the fern and poky green-leafed things and what I really hope is not poison oak (I am not a botanist either, clearly.)

This was a dumb idea. Because even though I knew I was not trying to harass these deer, this doe did not know that, I would come to realize. I shuffled down the side of the mountain some 15 feet to where there were some trees I could use to balance as I tried to make my way parallel to the trail. As I got just past where the doe was (I couldn’t see the fawn anymore) I said again, “Go on!” Nothing. I don’t know why I thought telling her to go, like a neighborhood dog, would do anything to encourage her to move. I tried again, “Go on!”

At some point, I either say “Go on!” one too many times or tried to move in a way she didn’t like, and in a flash, the doe charged down the hillside at me.

While I could tell you what to do in the face of black bear and mountain lion with some confidence (make yourself big, yell), and even grizzly bear (back away slowly saying “woah bear,” have bear spray ready, uh, pray), and heck, maybe even sharks (punch ’em in the nose!) I have no idea what you’re supposed to do with a deer. I have never seen a trail sign detailing how to handle deer. I had no idea a deer with no horns would even charge. (Let’s blame the patriarchy for that one.)

So what I did do is yell, “Get out of here!” The doe froze, and meandered back up to the trail. So I tried to move again, and she charged down the mountain again.

“Get out of here!”

We did this probably eight or nine times. Once she charged when I just turned my head to figure out what my next move could be.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking:

I really should have just googled what to do with a deer who won’t move before I trampled down this mountainside.

What is her plan, exactly? To ram me down the mountain? To head butt me to death?

If I have to use the SOS button on my InReach because I get head butted down a mountain by a deer, maybe it would be better to just disappear out here.

I’m considering whether to throw something at her, but having recognized my complete lack of deer-knowledge, I’m not sure if this will scare her off or piss her off more. I’m holding onto a thin little tree for balance and wishing I was behind one of the more substantial trees to my right or left, but whenever I try to move, she charges me.

And she seems to get closer with each charge, and each time I yell at her, it’s like she’s learning: “That’s it. That’s all this dumb lady has. I literally have eyeballs on the side of my head I’m so far down the food chain but even I could be an apex predator next to this dumb ape.” At one point she starts nibbling on some trail-side leaves she’s so unthreatened by me.

So the next time she charges, I yell, and I also break a branch off the tree I’m holding onto and throw it at her. This, finally, seems to spook her enough that she bounds back up to the trail.

To be honest, I don’t remember the sequence of events after that — whether she kept bounding or moved slowly up the trail or whatever, but I am pretty sure that was her last charge. I struggled to grab a few more big sticks in case she decided to charge again and bushwhacked my way parallel to the trail a few more feet before getting back on the trail itself. I carried those sticks for a good half mile before accepting that she wasn’t coming after me.

What Gaia thinks the deer encounter looked like. I wish I’d been able to move that much.

Compared to getting charged by a deer, the rest of the run was uneventful. I had to dig a cat hole around mile 10. I summited Tiger 3. On the way down back toward the trailhead, I started down a trail that said “unmaintained.” Another trail runner was headed up. I asked how the trail was.

“Rough,” she said.

“Like, terrible?”

“It’s not too bad, but it’s about 2,800 feet in 1.2 miles.”

“Oh, nope,” I said, marching back up the short distance I’d come. “I’ve had enough of that today.”

The way down Tiger 3 wasn’t exactly gentle on the knees/quads/spirit, but better than that, at least. I got back to the trailhead and had only gone about 13.5 miles, but managed to rally to run the Tradition Lake trail again (this time to the end) as well as the flat Bus Trail. This time around I realized why it was named that.

I didn’t read the trail signs but my guess is it’s because of the giant bus.

That is, by far, the most beat up I have felt after a run so far. It feels like someone has bludgeoned my legs. On the way home, I picked up a gyro and fries and a root beer hoping to undo some of the damage with pure calories—I should have probably had a full sandwich or something on me instead of just the Tailwind, gels, and banana that I did. (I also had a granola bar but it would probably take several more hours of starvation before that sounded appetizing.)

After I got home, I looked up what you’re supposed to do with deer. It sounds like it’s pretty rare for a doe to be aggressive with a human, even when her fawn is around, so lucky me. (It’s more common when there’s a human and a dog.) But does can be aggressive in the spring with their new babies and bucks get aggressive during rutting season. And in case you see one, the internet has informed me the best practices are, in this order:

  1. Hike your stupid ass back up the mountain, even if it means an extra 500 feet of elevation gain and the trail turnoff is RIGHT. THERE.
  2. Climb a tree, if you’re lucky enough to be near a climbable tree and have the speed to climb a tree as a deer charges you.
  3. Act big and shout
  4. If it does ram you, curl into a ball and cover your neck to protect the important stuff and hope they go away.

(Summarized from here.)

But throwing a stick (at a DOE!!! I wouldn’t even try it with antlers) didn’t seem to hurt.

Published by Colleen

Writer, backpacker, fledgling runner. Equally afraid of and thrilled by nature.

8 thoughts on “Runlikely: Charged by a Deer

  1. Great story! Your life is comically exciting. You had me laughing because a few years ago I would have felt the same. Who gets charged by a doe? Who does that? Lucky you.

    Like

  2. Wow Colleen! I’ve been in the woods all over the Western United States. But I’ve never heard of a doe charging an person before. Although, I don’t actually research that sort of thing. I’m sorry you had to go through this strange and somewhat scary situation. However, you did get a really cool story and thank you for sharing. I look forward to more of your writing, hopefully without dangerous wildlife involved.

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  3. This was a very good chuckle. I’m glad you came out of ok, and now you know what to do when a doe has it out for you.

    Like

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