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Deer Attack While Star Gazing at Ochoco Reservoir 7/20/96

It was an extremely clear mid summers night, there was a slight breeze which carried with it a hint of sage brush and juniper (typical high desert fauna), but there wasn't a cloud in sight. It was the beginning of the fire season, although, the few lighting sparked fires that were burning were far off to the west. With a slight but steady wind from the east it was by all standards -- a fantastic night for viewing the universe -- but sometimes things nearer to earth can steal the stage.

My wife and I, along with our two daughters Tiffany and Crystal ages 8 and 9. We had just returned to camp at Ochoco Reservoir after an evening of star gazing at the Pine Mountain Observatory. Pine Mountain is a wonderful place to take the kids. It is an interesting and enlightening experience for adults as well, even those of us who don't know Cassiopeia from Andromeda. A primitive forest service campground is located just across the road from PMO. [ More information ]

The observatory has three large telescopes available for public use, the largest has a 32 inch lens. Just walking the paths to the viewing area is a neat experience in it self, following the dimly lit paths illuminated by small red lights that snake there way up the hillside. The observatory uses red lights because the red color spectrum does not affect a persons ability to see in the dark, thereby allowing the best view of the billions of stars over head. Visitors are encouraged to place a piece of red cellophane or plastic over the lens of their flash lights, so as not to impair the vision of others.

It was getting late as we returned from our astronomy lesson. We arrived at favorite camping spot on the east side of a bluff at Ochoco Reservoir (see photo below). This spot is basically just a flat pull off along highway 26. We have camped here many times and really enjoy the view. The morning sun rises from behind the mountains at the far end of the lake. There is a trail leading down to the water where good fishing can be had. I first came here with my father and grandparents in the late 60's and have returned to fish and camp with my own family many times since.

After leveling the camper we set up the lawn chairs near the back of the camper and the wife and I relaxed and commenced gazing at the stars, intrigued by what we had seen at the observatory, while the kids settled down inside to a game of cards. About an hour had passed as Kim and I leaned back in our chairs marveling at the remarkable number of stars and galaxies visible in the clear desert sky.

As a distant car began approaching from the east, the only car to pass for several hours, I suggested to my wife, setting just across from me, to close her eyes so that her night vision would not be affected by the headlights. My back was to the road so I left mine open.  Then, suddenly, when the car was within seconds of passing we both felt and heard an intense thumping radiating from the ground. Kim, thinking someone was rushing out of the woods to do us harm, leaned forward in her chair bracing herself for the worst.

Then I spotted it coming out of the darkness just behind my wife. The first thing I saw was a fast approaching patch of brown hair about 5 feet off the ground, dimly lit by the meager amount of light coming from a side window of the camper. My first thought was a bear! Then, just as suddenly, something came over me. It may have been my natural instinct for survival or the instinct to protect my mate, or possibly it was the fact that I was so scared I just couldn't think of anything else. So I sprang to my feet yelling at the hairy thing charging towards us at break neck speed -- "Get Out Of Here You Some Bitch." I normally don't talk like this, especially around the kids, but a potential life threatening situation sometimes calls for drastic measures.

I must have surprised the hairy thing because it made a slight detour around us (we felt the breeze as it passed by), but it didn't slow down one bit as it continued running blindly toward the road. The approaching car was now upon us as we heard a loud "thump" and saw large yearling faun laying on the pavement near the center of the road. By this time the kids, having heard me yell out my instinctive survival slogan (which actually worked), were peering from the window of the camper only to witness bambi getting hit by a car.

Now, the wife and I are in shock as we sit looking at each other unable to speak due to lack muscle control in our lower jaws, the kids are crying because bambi is dead, my heart is beating out of my chest and we are both trying to contemplate what the heck just happened. At least we avoided being knocked out of our chairs by a crazy dear. That's a good thing right?

Well, like they say in the theater, it ant over till the fat lady sings.

As my wife quickly retreats to the camper to console the kids I notice that the deer is not dead. It's attempting to stand up, the kids see this and yell out, with hopeful but short lived joy, "Look dad the deer is ok." I don't think so, I'm not a veterinarian but to me it looks as though the poor thing is messed up pretty bad. A 45 mile-an-hour impact will do that. From my estimate it likely had a broken back at the least.

So now the deer is in the middle of the road attempting to stand up without much success. So I go to get my gun to put the poor creature out of its misery, but my wife stops me and says; "You cant kill it, then you'll be just like the hunter in Bambi" (we have the Disney movie and the kids have watched it a lot, evidently the wife has too). While I am debating with my wife about how we should handle the situation a second car comes speeding by -- bam -- and settles the issue for us. 

Well, I guess that's that, I say to the wife. Are you coming back out to look at the stars honey, I ask. "No, not tonight" she says, "I'm too scared to sit out there."

With my heart still beating like I just ran a triathlon, I settle back in my lawn chair to relax and regain my composure. But through the silence of the night air I hear something new in the darkness -- it sounds like heavy breathing -- Haaa.. Haaa.. Haaa.. I quickly grabe the Mag light from my belt holster and shine it into the darkness. As I bring the beam up I see two large glowing eyes peering at me through the night. Its a wolf, mouth open, breathing hard tongue hanging out, large canines glistening and its only 30 to 40 feet away. The wheels of my mind suddenly break free -- AH.. HA... there must have been a pack of wolfs chasing that deer, that's why it was running so haphazardly.... Now it all makes since.

Well, that's it for me. I call out to the wife as I quickly enter the RV.... "What about the lawn chairs," she asks.

I'll get them up in the morning. I don't think anyone is going to bother them tonight!

Of course later I'm thinking I'll be lucky if I can ever get my wife to come out star gazing again.


Notes: Pine Mountain Observatory is located 26 miles east of Bend Oregon. The last nine miles of road leading to the facility is gravel which gradually gains in altitude as you head to the top of Pine Mountain (6300 feet). Warning, the road is very washboard, all nine miles of it. Access is free, but a minimum donation of $3.00 per person is encouraged.


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20 years from now you'll be more disappointed in the things you didn't do than in the things you did.

       -- Mark Twain



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