By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
MOOREVILLE – The love of a forbidden animal is a bittersweet experience for members of the Gregory family, who since October have nurtured a motherless fawn they know must one day leave them.
Buckshot, as they call him, was found by a family friend in Amory after a bow hunter shot his mother. Although it’s illegal in Mississippi to transport wildlife, the friend couldn’t bear the thought of the fawn – then just a newborn – starving to death.
She took it to her house and then posted a photograph of it on Facebook.
Cristi Gregory saw the photo and joked that the creature was so cute she’d like to take it home herself. The friend said, “Could you?” As it turned out, Gregory could.
“My husband said no, that there was no way we were getting a deer, but after he met him, he fell in love,” Gregory said. “We all did.”
Buckshot was just 2 weeks old when the Gregorys brought him to their semi-wooded property in Mooreville. He was tiny – just a fuzzy little body and long, stick legs.
At first, he required constant attention and regular bottle feedings.
But eventually, the little deer gained his independence. Today he romps with the family dog in the yard or ventures into the woods with the cat, where both fawn and feline nap together in the thicket.
He never wanders far, though. When Cristi Gregory calls his name, Buckshot runs out of the woods and into her arms. He also comes to the back door of the house each day at 7 a.m., noon and again around dark to suck down 8 ounces of goat milk from a bottle.
And he eats apples, carrots, dog food, cat food and nearly every plant in the Gregorys’ yard.
When he’s tired, he sleeps in the dog house, which the family lined with soft hay.
“He’s my baby,” Cristi Gregory said as Buckshot licked her face and suckled her ear. “I just can’t tell you how much joy he has brought us and to everyone who meets him.”
Even the family’s 18-year-old son and avid deer hunter, DJ, has fallen in love with the fawn. On Tuesday, the teen knelt on the ground next to the creature and cooed while scratching its neck. In return, Buckshot closed its eyes and mewed with pleasure.
“I don’t think I could ever hunt a deer again,” DJ said. “If he wasn’t so innocent and loyal, it’d be a lot easier to shoot a deer again, but I can’t imagine ever even hurting one now. I’d just be thinking of him the whole time.”
Because the family doesn’t restrain the deer, lock him inside the house or keep him fenced, they’re not in violation of the law prohibiting people from having captive wildlife. But their unusual relationship still is strongly discouraged by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Even small fawns can survive without their mothers, said Tim Brinkley, assistant chief of law enforcement with the MDWFP. But now that the animal is accustomed to humans, its chances of survival outdoors are slim.
And the family puts itself at great risk by keeping the deer much longer, he said.
“It would be good for her to stop feeding it and stop interacting with it, have as little human contact with it as possible,” Brinkley added. “When the rut starts, this thing is going to go nuts. When he starts competing with other deer for the opportunity to mate, they get very erratic in their behavior.”
The rut is the mating season for deer and other ruminant species, like goats or sheep. Mississippi deer typically rut in December and January, but judging from his age, Buckshot likely won’t reach his adolescence until spring.
The Gregorys know it’s coming, though, and already have started seeking animal sanctuaries that take deer. But the thought breaks Cristi Gregory’s heart.
“I cry just thinking about it,” she said. “I don’t want him to grow up. He’s so sweet the way he is now. He’s my baby.”
But grow he will. Male White-tailed deer typically reach 71-85 inches long and weigh 130-300 pounds.
For now, the Gregorys try not to dwell on the future. They enjoy their fleeting gift with the fawn and snap as many pictures with him as possible.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.