Over the years, I've written many stories about human-animal interactions that have gone sideways. That being said, I never thought I'd be involved in such an encounter firsthand. Granted, no one can really predict when an encounter with wildlife will occur, as even a mere animal sighting is mostly dumb luck. It was that same dumb luck that put me in the crosshairs of a brazen doe, likely one set on defending her young.
Quite some time ago, I was walking my small dog on a paved and heavily-trodden trail that cuts through a bustling downtown Colorado Springs neighborhood, not far from a construction site, operational train tracks, and several busy streets. It's urban and it's noisy, but it's a path to walk on and it's close to where I live, so I frequent it quite a bit. While deer sightings are not uncommon in Colorado Springs – there are 20 deer per square mile in some parts of town, compared to two to three per square mile in rural areas – deer don't typically frequent this part of the town and when they do, they seem to be passing through.
As I walked my dog down the path, I spotted a fairly camouflaged doe poking its head out of some taller grass some 50 feet off of the pavement, surveilling the area. The deer remained so calm that my dog failed to notice her presence. I kept my eye on the deer as I approached a turn and it started to slip out of sight, but kept walking by.
Then the deer stood up. From my spot on the trail at least 150 feet away, I watched intently, waiting for its next move.
It pranced up to my point beside the trail and started to head me off, at which point I started to walk in a different direction, hopefully walking away from what I assumed was the animal's offspring hidden by the tall grass. The deer followed, soon stepping onto the trail as I walked backward, eyes locked on its movements. Meanwhile, my dog ignored the entire situation, as she would throughout its entirety – something I still find surprising.
At first, the deer followed at 40 or so feet, but it quickly closed that distance. Before long, it was about 15 feet away.
At this point, I remembered that I just so happened to have pepper spray on me. I pulled it out and pointed it at the animal. I'd never used it before, so I had no clue what to expect. I held my fire.
The animal continued to get closer, eventually not more than five feet away and kicking up her front hooves with each hopping steps. Meanwhile, I continued to walk backward as my dog led our retreat, still unfazed by the charging animal.
Without much of an option, I shot a little bit of the pepper spray in the direction of the animal without aiming directly at it. Surprised by the projectile, it stepped backward a bit and paused for a moment before continuing its pursuit.
By this point, the animal had been following me down the path for a couple minutes and several hundred yards of trail.
Several more bluff charges took place, with me continuing to keep the doe at bay with an off-target shot of pepper spray.
Eventually, the deer spotted someone taking a nap some 30 feet off the trail in the surrounding lawn, got distracted, and ultimately returned to the cover of the tall grass.
I watched the deer for a moment or two and then got back to my walk, in shock of what had just happened while my heart raced. I figure I'd have a pretty good shot in a hand-to-hoof fight against a doe, but that's a theory I'd rather never put to the test.
Encounters with aggressive deer aren't uncommon in Colorado, even in Front Range urban areas.
In October of 2020, a woman in Black Forest was gored by a deer her neighbors had allegedly tried to domesticate. In February of this year, a deer entered a Woodland Park woman's home, kicking her with its hooves. Also in the Pikes Peak region, a buck approached a young boy, kicking him in the shoulder. All three of these animals were euthanized as a result of each respective encounter.
While deer are often thought to be docile animals, they can act aggressively or defensively, particularly when they feel threatened or feel the need to defend their young.
In the encounter I had with the deer, I believe the doe was defending young, likely triggered by the presence of my dog, even without any attention shown from my dog and even with us walking past the animal quite some distance away.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty and I've learned quite a bit about wildlife safety since this happened. That being said, I often think about what I did right and what I could have done better.
For starters, I should have reported the encounter to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. At the time, adrenaline was pumping and I wasn't really aware of whether or not this was proper protocol, not wanting to call resources away from more important things. If this same encounter were to happen today, this is the first thing I would do after it concluded. That way, wildlife officers would be able to determine whether or not they should intervene to protect the wildlife or other passersby.
This situation also provides a good example of how unpredictable deer can be. I had been walking my dog down a path that many others had surely walked their own canines throughout the day. I was quite far from the deer and my dog didn't even notice it, hidden far from the trail. That being said, the deer decided to approach us anyway, probably still viewing my dog as an instinctual threat.
I was also thankful for my pepper spray. I just happened to have it on me and I just happened to remember to use it, giving me a non-lethal deterrent that I could use to scare the animal off, but not harm it.
The situation also gave me a good nerve test. While my heart was racing, I was still able to follow protocol that I'd learned in the past, keeping my calm and walking away from the animal while keeping my eye on it. I also spoke firmly to the deer, which really seemed to have no impact – perhaps I should have yelled. I was also able to see how my dog handled this type of situation – cool as a cucumber.
So there you have it – that's the story of how I almost got attacked by a deer while taking my dog down a city walking path. Never assume that a safe distance from a wild animal is far enough and always proceed with caution. If you suddenly find yourself thrust into an interaction with wildlife, as I did, do your best to safely remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.
Follow the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 'rule of thumb' recommendation and never attempt to interact with a wild animal. Remember, negative human-wildlife interactions tend to result in the wildlife being killed. It's crucial that people do what they can to prevent them from happening in the first place.
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