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A-Hunting Of The Deer
by [?]

If civilization owes a debt of gratitude to the self-sacrificing sportsmen who have cleared the Adirondack regions of catamounts and savage trout, what shall be said of the army which has so nobly relieved them of the terror of the deer? The deer-slayers have somewhat celebrated their exploits in print; but I think that justice has never been done them.

The American deer in the wilderness, left to himself, leads a comparatively harmless but rather stupid life, with only such excitement as his own timid fancy raises. It was very seldom that one of his tribe was eaten by the North American tiger. For a wild animal he is very domestic, simple in his tastes, regular in his habits, affectionate in his family. Unfortunately for his repose, his haunch is as tender as his heart. Of all wild creatures he is one of the most graceful in action, and he poses with the skill of an experienced model. I have seen the goats on Mount Pentelicus scatter at the approach of a stranger, climb to the sharp points of projecting rocks, and attitudinize in the most self-conscious manner, striking at once those picturesque postures against the sky with which Oriental pictures have made us and them familiar. But the whole proceeding was theatrical.

Greece is the home of art, and it is rare to find anything there natural and unstudied. I presume that these goats have no nonsense about them when they are alone with the goatherds, any more than the goatherds have, except when they come to pose in the studio; but the long ages of culture, the presence always to the eye of the best models and the forms of immortal beauty, the heroic friezes of the Temple of Theseus, the marble processions of sacrificial animals, have had a steady molding, educating influence equal to a society of decorative art upon the people and the animals who have dwelt in this artistic atmosphere. The Attic goat has become an artificially artistic being; though of course he is not now what he was, as a poser, in the days of Polycletus. There is opportunity for a very instructive essay by Mr. E. A. Freeman on the decadence of the Attic goat under the influence of the Ottoman Turk.

The American deer, in the free atmosphere of our country, and as yet untouched by our decorative art, is without self-consciousness, and all his attitudes are free and unstudied. The favorite position of the deer–his fore-feet in the shallow margin of the lake, among the lily-pads, his antlers thrown back and his nose in the air at the moment he hears the stealthy breaking of a twig in the forest–is still spirited and graceful, and wholly unaffected by the pictures of him which the artists have put upon canvas.

Wherever you go in the Northern forest you will find deer-paths. So plainly marked and well-trodden are they that it is easy to mistake them for trails made by hunters; but he who follows one of them is soon in difficulties. He may find himself climbing through cedar thickets an almost inaccessible cliff, or immersed in the intricacies of a marsh. The “run,” in one direction, will lead to water; but, in the other, it climbs the highest hills, to which the deer retires, for safety and repose, in impenetrable thickets. The hunters, in winter, find them congregated in “yards,” where they can be surrounded and shot as easily as our troops shoot Comanche women and children in their winter villages. These little paths are full of pitfalls among the roots and stones; and, nimble as the deer is, he sometimes breaks one of his slender legs in them. Yet he knows how to treat himself without a surgeon. I knew of a tame deer in a settlement in the edge of the forest who had the misfortune to break her leg. She immediately disappeared with a delicacy rare in an invalid, and was not seen for two weeks. Her friends had given her up, supposing that she had dragged herself away into the depths of the woods, and died of starvation, when one day she returned, cured of lameness, but thin as a virgin shadow. She had the sense to shun the doctor; to lie down in some safe place, and patiently wait for her leg to heal. I have observed in many of the more refined animals this sort of shyness, and reluctance to give trouble, which excite our admiration when noticed in mankind.