The deer had returned to the face of the hill and as the sun crept up behind the southern Ruahine I watched them from my back door. The stag was nowhere to be seen, even though I’d seen him just yesterday with the five now feeding there. Had he become bored with these few, or become exhausted and fed up with trying to keep them under control? Maybe he recognised that if the hinds weren’t now carrying his genes into the future they never would; maybe he understood in some subliminal, animal way that if he wanted the best chance to perpetuate his genes, he’d do better looking for other hinds.
Another possibility, but one I hoped hadn’t happened, was that he’d been shot. But that seemed unlikely, because even if the landowner had given permission for someone to hunt the area where I assumed the stag and hinds were living, who would shoot a rank, rutting stag with skinny little antlers when a yearling or one of the hinds would provide much better meat?
I watched the five deer grazing in the dawn light. The face of the hill was still in shadow, but sunlight had already arrowed through a saddle on the hills to light up the silver birch and bead tree by the little woolshed. The gold and brown and dull green birch leaves trembled in a cold, gusting breeze and the bronze bead tree leaves shimmered in the wind and sun. I stepped back slightly into the shade of the doorway and put the binoculars back to my eyes. The deer had come further down the hill, closer, almost to the fence at the foot of the slope. I could have watched them all day, but I had tea to drink, breakfast to eat, and work to do.
I wished them luck and turned back to the day’s tasks.
Since writing this, I've seen the stag back with the others on the hill on many occasions.
At one stage a month or two ago, the mob had increased to eight. This was one of the few times I've seen them in the sun; usually they wait until the face is in shadow.