Hunting is a favorite pastime of various characters in fantasy novels. It was also, of course, a popular sport for the upper crust in medieval times. Because of this, hunts and their quarry have been frequently portrayed in literature and film, for better or for worse. Like hunting in general, which I covered last time, the favorite object of these hunts has been more than a little fictionalized.
For starters, deer are not defenseless Bambis.
Even a lot of hunters believe this one. The truth is, deer can kick (with the front or back), bite (yes, bite), and head butt you into the afterlife even without antlers. They are wickedly strong, even those that look spindly and thin, capable of dragging several times their weight and making grown men beg for mercy. (The only writer I’ve ever seen really explore this was John Marco with his battle-elk. But that was so awesome it almost made up for everyone else.)
Running and jumping are pretty much the extent of a deer’s strong suits. Though Arthurian lore and much resulting fantasy fiction often imbues deer (particularly stags) with oracular/prophetic qualities, they actually tend to be pretty dumb. They often have trouble getting out of any enclosure they can’t jump, which is problematic if they get stuck in your yard. (And you can’t try chasing them out unless you want to get trampled.) Really, brains are not their forte.
They don’t strictly go solo or in Mommy and Me pairs.
Deer can be spotted on their own or in herds of females with their young or in “bachelor groups” or with a buck and a bunch of does—really, there are a lot of different combos you can have. Yet most the time on TV and in books, I see they turn up either solo or as a doe and fawn.
This one could be tied into my second point up there. In reality, only the matured males have those gorgeous racks you see over fireplaces and turned into chandeliers. As a general rule, a buck’s antlers have one new prong each year, so a yearling will have just one prong (hence the nickname “spike”), a two-year old will have two, and so on. This means that most deer (considering predators and such) probably will only have a few prongs. (Bucks also lose their antlers after the autumn mating season, which is something else fantasy writers seem to forget.)
As someone who grew up with a running commentary of “in real life, they…” I can be a bit picky. (Thanks a lot, Dad.) Still I don’t see any harm in shedding light on the matter. The right dose of reality breathes life into fiction!