PBS to Air NATURE's 'Touching the Wild', 4/16
For writer, artist and naturalist Joe Hutto ("My Life as a Turkey"), there is no such thing as conducting a typical research project. Whether having wild turkey chicks imprint on him or embedding with a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep for months at a time, Hutto seeks to observe behavior without preconceptions and from the animal's perspective. In the case of his latest study, it meant dedicating seven years of his life to being accepted by a wild mule deer family and living among them. When asked why, Hutto's response was: "How could you not?"
Hutto presents and narrates his story of bonding with a wild herd of mule deer and their impact on him when Touching the Wild airs Wednesday, April 16 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). Hutto has authored several titles including his latest, Touching the Wild, Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.), a companion book to be released to coincide with the Nature premiere. After the broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.
Touching the Wild takes place in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming near Hutto's ranch. This area serves as the winter range for a large herd of mule deer. His involvement with them began with a chance encounter with a young buck that took an interest in him and somehow understood he was not a threat: "He returned an upward nod of the head, and I looked away and I nodded my head, and he returned the gesture again. That deer was willing to see me as an individual, and he very clearly saw that I granted him his individuality. I was not seeing something, I was seeing someone."
As Hutto explains in Touching the Wild, he had to be out with the herd every day for two years to gain the first signs of trust from them, but once he won full acceptance from their leader, a doe he called Raggedy Anne, he could move among the individuals in the herd and no one paid attention. He had become part of the family. But if they spotted another human being, their deep-seated instincts would kick in and they would bolt, as mule deer have been a legally Hunted game animal for generations.